Afghan Air Force (AAF) - Modernization
As of May, 2018, the AAF has 136 aircraft, of which 126 were operational. Fixed-wing platforms include C-208s, C-130s, and A-29s. Rotary-wing platforms include MD-530s, Mi-17s, UH-60As, and Mi-35s. Some platforms were limited by understaffed crew positions, like flight engineers, that were required to assemble fully trained flight crews. During this reporting period, 15 pilots and 16 Special Mission Operators (SMOs) completed Mission Qualification Training (MQT) for the UH-60A, the AAF’s newest platform. Training was ongoing for, 14 more pilots and 16 more SMOs and should be complete in August 2018.
The Government of India donated four Mi-35s to Afghanistan. The AAF’s prior Mi-35 fleet reached the end of its service life and was not included in the official Tashkil. The coalitionCoalition does not provide TAA support to the Mi-35 aircraft or their crews. All four aircraft have exceeded their 500-hour inspection and have been grounded until completed. The AAF was trying to source funding to complete repairs.
As part of the ANDSF Roadmap objective to increase fighting capability, the AAF was planned to grow in both capacity and capability. According to the 2018 aircraft delivery schedule, the total AAF fleet was planned to reach 225 aircraft by the end of 2020, including: 18Mi-17, 60 UH-60, 18 UH-60 fixed forward- firing, 60MD-530, 25 A-29, 16 AC-208, 24 C-208, and 4 C-130 aircraft. The total AAF fleet was planned to reach 264 aircraft by the end of 2023, including: 81UH-60, 38 UH-60 fixed-forwardfiring, 60 MD-530, 25 A-29 (all U.S. training aircraft transferred to Afghanistan), 32 AC-208 (all U.S. training aircraft transferred to Afghanistan), 24 C-208, and 4 C-130 aircraft. Of note, the first UH-60As arrived in Kandahar in September 2017, and the first six Afghan Pilots began training on the Black Hawks in early October 2017.
In January 2011, the AAF had 56 of its planned fleet of 146 aircraft, including 35 Mi-17 helicopters, 9 Mi-35 attack helicopters, 9 C-27 airlifters, and 3 An-32 airlifters. The AAF fleet reflected the Afghan Government's COIN airpower priorities. The Mi-17 was an effective rotary-wing airframe due to its durable structure and lift capacity at high altitude. The Mi-35 provided an indigenous, albeit limited, close air support capability for the ANSF. The C-27 was the AAF's first modern, all-weather-capable aircraft.
As of March 2011, in conjunction with the AAF, the NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan (NTM-A) and the US Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan (CSTC-A) planned and requested funding for a comprehensive aircraft acquisition and modernization plan. By 2016, the Mi-17 fleet was planned to grow to 56. Discussions were under way to extend the service life of the Mi-35, which would allow the airframe to remain in the AAF inventory through 2016. A number of other key acquisitions were included in the planning. It was expected that the AAF's Antonov An-32 aircraft would be replaced by the 20 C-27A aircraft, a turboprop, fixed-wing airlifter. Nine C-27A's were on-hand by April 2011 and 11 were to be delivered by 2012. The AAF expected to procure 6 initial flight training rotary wing aircraft with expected delivery by October 2011. Procurement of up to 32 "Cessna-like" fixed-wing aircraft was also planned for initial flight and basic fixed-wing screening with expected delivery beginning in October 2011 and completion by FY13. A potential procurement of up to 20 aircraft for fixed-wing close air support was also to be investigated.
The AAF aircraft build continued to make progress during late 2011 and early 2012. Basic pilot training was supported by six Cessna 182 aircraft. Six Cessna 208 aircraft were also in place to support initial fixed wing pilot training. On the rotary wing side, six MD-530 helicopters had been delivered to support the initial rotary wing pilot training requirements.
As of the end of March 2012, the AAF has three remaining contracts open to complete the inventories of three aircraft: Mi-17s, C-208s, and C-27s. As of March 27, 2012, the Afghan Air Force inventory consisted of 87 aircraft, 11 more than last quarter:
- 41 Mi-17s (transport helicopters).
- 11 Mi-35s (attack helicopters).
- 15 C-27s (cargo planes).
- 8 C-208Bs (light transport planes).
- 6 C-182Ts (four-person trainers).
- 6 MD-530Fs (light helicopters).
According to CSTC-A, an additional six Mi-17s, two C-208Bs, and one C-27 were expected to be delivered to the Afghan Air Force in 2012.
As of March 2012, the AAF was rated as CM-4 (exists but cannot accomplish its mission) because not all manpower billets were sourced, and those that were filled often lack appropriate training. Kabul Air Wing was awaiting its programmed allocation of aircraft. Kabul aircraft included 15 C-27s, 18 Mi-17s (with expected arrival of six additional aircraft in Spring 2012), and 11 Mi-35s, of which four had expired. As part of this fleet, Kabul also hosts the Presidential airlift, with three Mi-17s and two C-27A aircraft dedicated to this important mission.
Kandahar Air Wing was assessed as CM-4, due to the absence of all programmed mission aircraft (C-27, LAS, C-208). Additionally, the wing lacked manpower and training, which would follow once it began to receive additional mission aircraft. Kandahar had seven of the planned 11 Mi-17s. Activities were underway now to permanently base four C-27As as the final five C-27As were delivered later this spring. Kandahar would also be receiving the C-208 light lift aircraft as deliveries continue through summer 2013.
Although Shindand Air Wing was assessed as CM-4, it continued to mature as the AAF’s training wing. During the reporting period, Shindand has begun initial pilot training with the newly delivered C-182 trainer aircraft.
In the Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan released in July 2013, it was noted that the Afghan Air Force faced a number of challenges, particularly recruiting and training personnel to operate and maintain the fleet, and that it was not expected to be fully mission capable until at least 2018. As of January 2013, the Special Mission Wing had less than one quarter of its authorized personnel and as a result US Department of Defense hired contractors performed over 50 percent of the maintenance on the unit's existing aircraft. In addition, as of January 2013, only 7 of the 47 pilots assigned to the Special Mission Wing were qualified to conduct operations using night vision goggles, a critical skill. SIGAR recommended the purchase be put on hold until measures could be taken to assure that Special Mission Wing would be capable of operating and maintaining the aircraft.
In September 2013, Air Force Brigadier General John Michel, head of the NATO Air Training Command Afghanistan, responsible for training the AFF, attended the annual Air Force Association conference in Maryland, telling the American Forces Press Service about the Afghan air capability that he maintained no longer was fledgling, but rather was flourishing. At that time, the AAF was divided into 3 wings, located respectively in Kabul, Kandahar and Shindand, in western Afghanistan’s Herat province. The command center was in Kabul, and the Shindand Air Base was the main training area. The Afghan force had a fleet of 92 fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, with 12 more Mi-17 transport helicopters being delivered starting in September 2013.
Ultimately, the force’s fleet was said to be expected to include 58 Mi-17s, 6 Mi-35 attack helicopters, 20 C-208 turboprop airliners, 4 C-130 transport aircraft, and 20 A-29 light attack aircraft. The inclusion of the the Mi-35 helicopters was in contrast to the suggestion in the July 2013 progress report that these aircraft were largely inoperable and were expected to be phased out. General Michel also noted that though the majority of ISAF would depart Afghanistan in 2014 and that it would look to end combat operations in the country, the NATO air training mission was slated to continue at least until December 2017.
According to CENTCOM and the NATO Air Command–Afghanistan, as of October 11, 2014, the Afghan Air Force inventory consisted of 101 aircraft:
- 56 Mi-17 transport helicopters (down from 58 after two combat losses; includes three on loan to the Special Mission Wing)
- 26 C-208 light transport planes
- Six C-182 fixed-wing training aircraft
- Five MD-530F rotary-wing helicopters
- Five Mi-35 attack helicopters
- Three C-130H medium transport aircraft
The AAF faces difficulties with sustaining its maintenance capability at all bases across Afghanistan. AAF aircraft platforms was planned to require varying degrees of contract logistics support (CLS) through at least FY 2023. Additionally, as coalition advisors draw down, the ability for AAF to order parts and sustain their systems would be a challenge, as they currently lack the planning and discipline required to keep their fleet up and running. Maintenance support within the Kabul area was sufficient due to coalition and CLS presence.
The future life-cycle sustainment objective was to develop a mix of organic and contract maintenance and logistics management support. The AAF has improved its organic capability to conduct preventive and routine maintenance, but contract maintenance was planned to perform heavy (e.g. depot level) repairs and aircraft overhauls. TAAC-Air was also working with the AAF to develop a cadre of master instructors to train future mechanics.
Afghanistan was expected to get up to 200 helicopters and other aircraft as part of a four-year plan to improve the nation's security forces to help beat the Taliban insurgency, according to Dawlat Waziri, the spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry. Waziri said 29 March 2017 discussion of the plan was part of the agenda of a top level US delegation expected to visit Kabul. US officials had not publicly confirmed the reported trip, but their Afghan counterparts have been discussing the expected agenda.
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