House Democrat looks to block DOD arms deals with Russia

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) sponsored the amendment to the House's version of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill on Wednesday. The House Armed Services Committee approved the $643 billion defense budget bill on May 9 by a 56-5 vote.

The full House is scheduled to begin debate on the committee's legislation on Wednesday. 

DeLauro's amendment would prevent the Defense Department from doing business with any defense firm "that has provided weapons to Syria at any time" before 2003 or "any country that is currently a state sponsor of terrorism." 

If approved, DOD would be forced to terminate its multimillion-dollar helicopter deal with Russian-based defense firm Rosoboronexport. 

The company has a $375 million deal with the Defense Department, signed in 2011, to provide 21 dual-use Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan military.

The helicopters have been critical in supporting the Afghan National Security Forces as they prepare to take over security operations from the United States and coalition forces in 2014. 

However, the firm also reportedly provided $1 billion worth of arms to Syria in 2011, and continued shipments this year in the midst of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on opposition forces.

In March, 17 senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demanding the Pentagon cut all ties with Rosoboronexport. 

But dealing directly with Russian firm is the only way to guarantee the "airworthiness and safety cognizance" for U.S. and Afghan forces flying the Mi-17, Maj. Gen. William Crosby, head of Army aviation, told House lawmakers later that month. 

The time, cost and effort needed to retrain Afghan pilots on helicopters other than the Mi-17 would be extraordinary, Crosby said at the time. 

Afghan forces have already been flying the Mi-17 on and off since the Russian occupation in the 1980s. The helicopters played an instrumental role in President Obama's 2009 troop surge into Southern Afghanistan.