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Afghan Air Force (AAF)
Afghan National Army Air Corps (ANAAC)

The Afghan Air Forces 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.

Most aircraft still remaining by 2001 were destroyed by coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom. What was left of the Afghan Air Force was a few dozen pilots, most of whom had not flown since 1996, occupying a part of Bagram Air Base near Kabul. As part of the establishment of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in 2002, an Air Corps was subsequently established within the new Afghan National Army (ANA).

Afghanistan required an air force of a modest size. Few would dispute the need for a transport capability, but some fighting power was also required if the Afghan National Army was expected to operate independently of US air support. Therefore, at some point, surely before the year 2020, a political decision would have to be made to invest in the reconstitution of an Afghan Air Force with a fighting capability. In the shorter term, the existing ANAAC, which suffered from ageing and antiquated equipment, required immediate investment merely to establish an air lift capacity.

The ANAAC was in a very poor state as of late 2004. It lacked airworthy combat planes and possessed only a few attack helicopters. Airlift capabilities were very modest, with maybe 10 utility and attack helicopters and a few light transport planes at their disposal. Maintenance technicians were being trained, but no pilots. The Afghan National Army Air Corps relied on the vast pool of pilots who were trained during the communist period. More than 450 enlisted with the Afghan National Air Air Corps, but the majority of these serviceman had logged very few flying hours since 1990.

While the United States had said that it intended to rebuild the air force and various other states had made offers to donate equipment, no material aid had arrived by 2005. At that time essentially all air operations in Afghanistan were conducted by US and other allied aircraft.

In June 2010, President Hamid Karzai redesignated the Afghan National Army Air Corps as the Afghan Air Force (AAF). The name change did not make the AAF independent from the ANA, but the move affirmed Afghan intent to eventually return the air force to its former independent status. 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 Afghanistans 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 are investigating 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 says the investigation is still very preliminary.




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