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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), June 21, 2000
Mr. McCONNELL. At the outset, neither of these helicopters were made in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. My good friend from Connecticut has done, as usual, a very effective job of representing his position. Were I the Senator from Connecticut, I am confident I would be making a very similar speech. Even though the amendment of the Senator from Connecticut doesn't specify the

particular kind of helicopter, as a practical matter, if you leave that decision entirely to the Pentagon, I think the Senator would agree that they are likely to prefer the Blackhawk.

Let me just point out to my colleagues why the committee made the decision that it did. First, this is primarily a cost decision. While we didn't want to compromise on safety or capability, we had to consider the fact that over the next several years of use, this subcommittee will have to provide financial support to maintain and operate whatever aircraft is selected to move Colombian troops. Mr. President, this is not a one-time procurement decision. We will be dealing with this in future years. According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Blackhawks will cost about $12 million each and then at least $1,200 an hour to operate. Counternarcotics aircraft are expected to average 25 hours of flying time a month year-round. To cover these costs, the administration has requested $388 million to procure, maintain, and operate the 30 Blackhawks.

In comparison, the Huey II will cost $1.8 million to refurbish, and then roughly $500 an hour for fuel, spare parts, and other operational costs.

Frankly, the strongest argument the administration made for Blackhawks over Hueys was that the former had twice the troop-carrying capability, as Senator Dodd pointed out. While the Huey manufacturer challenged this argument, I decided it was better safe than sorry. So to address the issue, we doubled the number of aircraft we are funding to 60. Even doubling the number of helicopters, the cost of the Huey program stays under $120 million.

Supporters of the Huey have also argued that they can be made available sooner than the delivery schedule of the end of the year for the Blackhawk. Given the pilot shortages and the time it will take to `train up' either Blackhawk or Huey pilots, I don't see this aspect as particularly decisive.

I think we have assured the Colombians that they can successfully achieve their mission by taking the approach we recommended in the bill.

I think we have assured the Colombians that they can successfully achieve their mission at a lower cost, not only now but, very importantly, to the budget here in the United States, and lower it in the future for the United States.

With the savings we achieved by taking the approach we recommended in the bill, we have been able to increase the regional support for the Colombian police, increase support for human rights programs, and sustain requested levels for equipment, training, and related support for counternarcotics battalions.

Senator Dodd's chart points out the precise reason we chose to fund 60 Huey IIs rather than 30 Blackhawks. His chart points out that the cost to operate the Huey is $617 per hour compared with the Blackhawk cost of $1,675 per hour.

The foreign operations account has to pay for these operational costs this year, next year, and every year after that. Those are years in which we will probably not have $1 billion in emergency funds for Colombia. That means we will have to cut into other accounts to keep these helicopters flying in future years. Which accounts do we cut? Refugees, UNICEF, funds for Armenia, and Russia, demining, or health? What accounts will pay the price to fly Blackhawks in the future years when Hueys would do?

These are U.S. units, which do not have Blackhawks, which will have to wait while the production line produces Colombia's inventory. Given the short- and long-term costs, and given the impact on the availability for U.S. troops, the committee decided to provide twice the number of refurbished Hueys which will meet all the troop transport requirements in Colombia.

Those are the arguments for the approach the committee has chosen.

I yield the floor.

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