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Afghanistan - Air Force - 2010-20??

The Afghan Air Force’s long-term development strategy as of early 2012 included the creation of an air force that can support the needs of the ANSF and Afghan Government by 2016. This force will be capable of presidential airlift, air mobility, rotary and fixed-wing close air support, casualty evacuation, and aerial reconnaissance. The AAF also plans to be able to sustain its capacity through indigenous training institutions, including a complete education and training infrastructure. The air fleet will consist of a mix of Russian and Western airframes. Afghan airmen will operate in accordance with NATO procedures and will be able to support the Afghan Government effectively by employing the instruments of airpower.

AAF plans, however, were ambitious and indicative of a need to balance Afghan Government aspirations, necessity, and affordability. As of early 2012, AAF capacity and capability remained extremely limited and future progress was challenged by significant obstacles, including inadequate national education and literacy levels as well as a nascent pilot training program. Corruption also remained a significant problem in the AAF, where a criminal patronage network is involved in numerous illegal activities. ISAF and the Afghan Government continue to work together to combat corruption, and as of the end of the reporting period, numerous investigations were ongoing. Nevertheless, the Afghan Government had yet to demonstrate the political will to address corruption and remove and prosecute corrupt officials on a consistent basis.

As of 2015, as part of the ANA, the AAF was responsible for air mobility and close air attack. With the transition from ISAF to RS forces during this reporting period, the AAF has become the primary air enabler for the ANDSF, flying most operations independently. The AAF can now independently plan and execute air operations such as emergency extraction, armed overwatch, casualty evacuation, air reconnaissance, close air attack, and airlift of forces. The AAF also provided air assets for logistics, resupply, humanitarian relief efforts, human remains return, air interdiction, and aerial escort. The AAF was headquartered in Kabul and had three wings — the Kabul Air Wing, Kandahar Air Wing, and Shindand Air Wing — with detachments in Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, Shorab, Gardez, and Herat. It currently conducts semi-autonomous operations from Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, Gardez, Herat, Shorab, and Shindand. Semi-autonomous operational locations are defined as those bases where there is no permanent U.S. or coalition air advisor presence. These locations are periodically visited by expeditionary advising teams to assess progress.

By 2011, the AAF's long-term development strategy envisioned an air force that could support the needs of the ANSF and the Afghan Government by 2016. It would be capable of Presidential airlift, air mobility, rotary and fixed-wing close air support, casualty evacuation, and aerial reconnaissance. The AAF also planned to be able to sustain its capacity through indigenous training institutions, including a complete education and training infrastructure. The air fleet would consist of a mix of Russian and Western airframes. Afghan airmen would operate in accordance with NATO procedures, and would be able to support the Afghan Government effectively by employing all of the instruments of COIN airpower. The United States viewed this plan as ambitious and said that it belied a continuing tension between aspirations and affordability.

During the final quarter of 2010, NATO Air Training Command - Afghanistan (NATC-A) completed the initial stage of the AAF's Personnel Asset Inventory (PAI). The second stage was to run from February to April 2011. This effort had 3 purposes. First, the PAI established a true quantitative baseline for AAF personnel strength. Each AAF member provided personal data integral to identifying and calculating the AAF's total force and technical proficiency levels. Second, the PAI collected biometric data from each airman, allowing the Ministry of Interior (MoI) criminal investigation division to cross-reference the national databases to identify airmen with criminal histories. Finally, the PAI gathered electronic funds transfer (EFT) information from each airman. NATC-A then incorporates the EFT data and the remaining PAI information into the Afghan Personnel Information Management System (PIMS). Using this financial information, officials could identify and correct AAF pay irregularities and the "shadow" accounts sometimes used to collect these payments. In sum, the PAI supported efforts to build a transparent, professional, and sustainable AAF.

Assembling an experienced, professional AAF, including an instructor cadre that could provide pilot and technical training, was the focus of NTM-A/CSTC-A's "Airmen Build" line of operation. By the end of March 2011, AAF manning was expected to reach 4,728 Airmen, an increase of 630 airmen over the December 2010 strength. The Afghans and NTM-A/CSTC-A continued to research opportunities to bolster both the AAF NCO and Officer Corps in an effort to develop the force in both quantity and quality as it grows to the proposed 2011 end strength of 8,017 personnel (expected to be reached by March 2012). Attrition at the time stood near 1.4 percent per month, which was an acceptable level to maintain professional and technical skills. Factors limiting growth include education levels, English language requirements, and pilot training, which were factors that also limited the AAF's ability to produce personnel who were able to perform the technically advanced specialties required for aircraft maintenance and airfield support.

On 3 March 2011, the Presidential Airlift Squadron completed its first move of President Karzai by an all-Afghan crew. One air advisor remained in the formation to provide assistance, if required, but was not on the President's aircraft.

As of early 2012 the NATO Air Training Command – Afghanistan (NATC-A) was focused on building Afghanistan’s airpower along four lines of operation: aircraft build, airmen build, infrastructure build, and operational capability. All lines of operation made limited progress during the reporting period, but remain immature. The AAF build timeline lags the rest of the ANSF, as it started its training mission two years later, and more time is needed for technical training to produce pilots, mechanics, and several other technical skill sets.

The AAF airmen build remained underdeveloped. The overall strength of the AAF was 5,541 at the end of the reporting period, with 1,577 currently in training. The pilot training program had 55 candidates progressing through the self-paced (normally 18 months) English language training course and 64 progressing through 12-month pilot training courses. New accession pilot candidates were required to possess an 80 English Competency Level score before beginning a formal pilot training course. Future training could be conducted entirely within Afghanistan with the opening of the training center in Shindand, but the March 2012 course was cancelled due to a lack of progression by pilot candidates in the English language course. Shindand is capable of producing 70 pilots per year. There are also Afghan pilots attending courses in the United States, United Arab Emirates, and the Czech Republic.

In November 2011, NTM-A and the AAF conducted a data call to assess the training level of AAF airmen, evaluating 2,800 personnel, or more than half of the force. The assessment revealed that 1,918 of those surveyed were undertrained but remained assigned to units. Combining the data call and subsequent investigations, only 973 personnel were found to be fully trained for their position. NTM-A and the AAF responded with additional training programs, resulting in 557 additional personnel that have now completed training. The existing shortfall in trained airmen was significant; the lack of a sufficient aircrew impeded the growth of the capability and infrastructure for the AAF and undermines the ability to grow the force.

U.S. officials investigated allegations that some Afghan Air Force officers have been using official aircraft to fly drugs and illegal weapons around the country. A U.S. newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, says investigators are also looking into whether the alleged air force drug and weapons trafficking is related to a deadly attack last year. In the attack, an Afghan military pilot opened fire on NATO troops, killing eight U.S. soldiers and an American contractor. It was the deadliest such incident since the war began in 2001. The Journal reports the attacker, an air force colonel, is accused of being involved in the illegal activities, while most of the victims were involved in an early phase of the investigation. A NATO spokesman said the investigation was very preliminary.

The AAF is authorized up to 7,800 personnel as part of its tashkil. In early 2015 its end strength decreased slightly from 6,634 personnel in October 2014, to 6,533 personnel in April 2015. As of April 2015, AAF personnel included 51 women. This included Afghanistan’s first female fixed-wing pilot since the Taliban’s rule, who was honored by the Department of State during a visit to the United States in March 2015. TAAC-Air is working with the AAF currently on an advertising program to recruit more Afghan women, but recruitment of women continued to be difficult due to the societal norms of Afghanistan.

Logistical sustainment will make or break the AAF in the long-run. The AAF continues to develop its organic maintenance capability, including conducting aircraft maintenance inspections without coalition assistance. However, as of early 2015 it relied heavily on contracted logistics support for its current fleet and will continue to do so for the near future, particularly to enable integration of new aircraft into the force. Although the capability of current AAF maintenance personnel continued to improve, obtaining the number and skill levels of personnel required to sustain the current and future fleet will remain a challenge.

Additionally, pilot development and availability within the AAF remained a challenge for several reasons. First, pilot training literacy requirements make finding qualified recruits difficult. Additionally, AAF pilot availability is affected by the MoD’s decision to transfer crews from the AAF to the SMW to establish the SMW PC-12 and fill its Mi-17 crews. Finally, highly experienced AAF C-208 pilots were reassigned to enter A-29 training that started in February 2015.

The AAF had approximately 150 of 291 required fully trained pilots, and approximately 90 of the 198 required aircrews available for operations; this did not include any fully trained pilots in training for another type of aircraft, such as the A-29 or MD-530. The AAF remained in the early stages of building a long-term and sustainable pilot generation process and is forecasted to continue to expand capacity during the remainder of 2015.

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