Special Mission Wing (SMW)
The Special Mission Wing (SMW) conducts Day/Night Vision Goggle (NVG) air assault and Day/Night Intelligence, surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), counter-narcotic (CN), and counter-terrorism (CT) operaons in support of Afghan Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense Special Security Forces (ASSF). The SMW is an MoD independent air wing organized into four squadrons, with the headquarters and two squadrons in Kabul, one squadron in Kandahar, and a future squadron in Mazar-e-Sharif. The unit is comprised of elite pilots and support personnel from the Ministries of Defense and Interior capable of performing the most dangerous airborne operaons.
Established from the MoI’s Air Interdicon Unit, which was originally organized in 2005, the SMW commenced operaons as a Joint MoD/MoI unit in 2012. The unit conducted its first Afghan-pure mission in 2009, and conducted its first Afghan-led NVG mission in 2012. The unit has flown over 250 missions in 2014, conducng mul-funconal aviation operations in direct support of Commandos, ANA Special Forces, Ktah Khas, and GCPSU national mission units. The SMW is the only air mobility capability in Afghanistan able to project SOF combat power in low visibility, and provides the only ANSF ISR capability. In early 2015, the SMW was reorganized under the MoD.
A SIGAR review of U.S. efforts to support the SMW in June 2013 found critical shortfalls in qualified Afghan personnel and equipment maintenance, as well as challenges arising from the dual MOD/MOI command and control structures, potentially jeopardizing $771.8 million in U.S.-funded aircraft that had yet to be delivered. Among many other recommendations, SIGAR called for the suspension of contracts awarded for 48 new aircraft until a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the MOI and MOD. DoD did not concur with that recommendation, citing as reasons the approaching delivery date of the equipment and ongoing work to finalize a charter with the Afghan Air Force that would address some of the concerns.
MOI and MOD are responsible for manning, initial training and equipping the SMW. MOI and MOD, through the MOI Deputy Minister for Security and MOD Chief of General Staff, provide joint command and control of the SMW and provide approval of SMW support requests for their organic ASSF units.
Ensuring Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorism, the SMW provides rapid, precision airliftto aid Afghanistan’s elite forces in dismantling terror networks. The SMW delivers Afghan Special Security Forces in low visibility condions to fight the enemy when least expected.
One of the biggest challenges in this region is drug trafficking. The SMW supports units who help prevent the culvation, production, and smuggling of illegal narcocs, which is considered a major funding source of terrorism. The SMW provides Afghanistan’s only dedicated manned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability, enabling ground force commanders to see the battlespace with aerial full-moon video.
As of June 2015, the SMW had two squadrons located in Kabul and a new squadron recently established in Kandahar. The SMW aircraft fleet included 30 Mi-17V5 helicopters and 13 of 18 planned PC-12 fixed-wing aircraft with ISR capabilities. DoD reported that all 460 personnel of the SMW were realigned to fall under the MOD in April 2015, allowing for greater consistency in the allocation of salary payments among positions as well as other administrative matters. Previously, the SMW had personnel assigned to both the MOD and the MOI.
During December–May 2015, the SMW conducted more than 840 Mi-17 and 1,008 PC-12 operations and training missions, proving its ability to provide ISR, develop targets, and conduct mission overwatch during infiltration and exfiltration of aircraft and ground personnel.
The Special Mission Wing provides expeditionary reach for the ASSF in conducting counterterrorism and counternarcotics missions designed to disrupt insurgent and drug smuggling networks in Afghanistan. The SMW enables ASSF helicopter assault force raids and provides overwatch, ISR, resupply, and CASEVAC for ASSF operations using both fixed-wing and rotary-wing platforms. Due to the topography and security environment of Afghanistan, this aviation support denies insurgents, terrorists, and drug trafficking networks freedom of movement and safe haven within Afghanistan. The SMW currently has three fully operational squadrons. The 1st and 2nd Squadrons are located in Kabul, and the 3rd Squadron is located at Kandahar Airfield.
The SMW consisted in late 2015 of approximately 509 personnel. In addition, there were more than 100 personnel undergoing the entry process, which requires background and security checks English proficiency testing, as well as an interview with the SMW commander prior to final acceptance. The SMW was continuing its recruiting efforts to meet the long-term goal of filling its tashkil by December 2017. To achieve this objective, the SMW must recruit 30 individuals per month. The SMW and ANASOC have developed a strategy designed to meet these goals while retaining quality, vetted personnel.
As of late 2015, the SMW possessed 29 of 30 authorized Mi-17V5s, 6 of 6 Mi-17V1s, and 17 of 18 authorized PC-12s.
The primary mission of the Mi-17s is to enable ASSF helicopter assault force raids for both counternarcotics and counterterrorism missions. Additionally, the Mi-17s are used to conduct resupply operations, CASEVAC, and quick reaction force and personnel movement. The SMW is currently manned with 74 Mi-17 pilots. All of the rotary-wing pilots have graduated from initial entry rotary training or previously have been rated as Mi-17 or Mi-35 pilots.
The PC-12s provide overwatch to ASSF ground assault forces and helicopter assault force raids during both daytime and night time operations. PC-12 crews require a mission-qualified aircraft commander, co-pilot, and mission system operator. The SMW is currently manned with 34 PC-12 pilots. Nearly 90 percent of PC-12 pilots had no previous flight experience prior to initial training, but they were demonstrating progress.
As of late 2015, the SMW did not possess the ability to conduct the necessary maintenance and repair of assigned airframes and relies on contract logistics support to maintain its fleet. As new Afghan aircraft mechanics complete their training, they were beginning to support the maintenance effort. Ninety percent of the SMW’s costs consist of CLS, fuel, training, and parts with the remaining 10 percent comprising salaries and incentives, facilities, and food and clothing. Reflecting its dual counterterrorism and counternarcotics missions, the DoD Counternarcotics Fund provides 40 percent of the SMW’s funding, while the remaining 60 percent is from ASFF. ASFF is the primary means of funding contracted maintenance for the SMW.
By 2018 recruiting standards, competition with other ANDSF forces, and training timelines remained the largest hurdles to long-term SMW recruitment. Recruitment standards for the SMW are higher than for the AAF or other ANDSF pillars and employ additional levels of screening. The selection, recruitment, screening, and training timeline for new SMW aircrew can take up to 15 months. The MoD and the coalition vet all SMW recruits to ensure that they can meet the high demands of the unit. The SMW struggles to find qualified candidates to fill pilot and maintenance personnel slots.
In early April 2018 an agreement was signed between the SMW SOAG and TAAC-Air in which both parties agree on the proportions of recruits going to the SMW and AAF in order to best support President Ghani’s request to grow the SMW and AAF. In the short term, the largest hurdle to the SMW growth is a lack of approved tashkil positions into which to recruit personnel. Without approved tashkil positions, the SMW cannot start recruiting additional personnel to meet ANDSF Roadmap goals for 2018. A new tashkil signed this reporting period added additional pilots and rear crew, to start training for the arrival of the UH-60 in 2020. The courses that will train these personnel were already scheduled. No plan is in place for the requisite growth of the necessary mission support and maintenance personnel.To encourage recruitment and retention, the SMW utilizes incentive pay, especially for aircrew. Better pay, defined aircrew and non-aircrew career paths, and strong leadership enhances the SMW’s credibility and organizational culture and attracts volunteers from the wider ANDSF.
The SMW will expand to provide the necessary command and control and support structure for organizational growth. Over the next five years, the SMW will grow to approximately 1,350 personnel with 85 aircraft with the mission of supporting ASSF ground units nationwide. This growth will mirror the AAF Wing structure, including a 2-star command; Operations, Maintenance and Mission Support Groups; and subordinate squadrons for specific functions.
The SMW had 33 Mi-17 and 18 PC-12 airframes on hand in early 2018. Pending tashkil approval, the SMW could have 37 Mi-17s authorized in FY 2019. With 23 Mi-17 crews and 17 PC-12 crews, the SMW met the 2017 ANDSF Roadmap requirements. The loss of flight engineers reduced the number of Mi-17 crews to 22; however, ongoing training will increase the number of crews.
As of earl 2018, a total of 18 PC-12 aircraft were operational, providing the ANDSF with day and night surveillance and air-based signals intelligence capabilities. The PC-12 can send full-motion video (FMV) to a ground station, and the onboard crew can perform real-time analysis of collected data. Despite these capabilities, SMW personnel require training to improve the integration of intelligence into combat operations. The SMW was considered at full operational capability (FOC) for the PC-12 and no longer requires enduring support from AFSOC’s 6th Special Operations Squadron. However, with no enduring lifecycle management program for the PC-12, U.S. program managers must determine how best to provide the required upgrades and critical modifications necessary over the life of the aircraft.
With the influx of new UH-60A aircraft for the SMW, SMW aircrew and the SOAG prepared training requirements for the aircrew. As part of the AAF modernization, the SMW requested and obtained approval for the first 10 UH-60 crews; the tashkil update for those crews was approved by MoD in April 2018. These authorizations allow the SMW to recruit, select, screen, assign, and train new personnel.
The SMW operates four squadrons capable of conducting independent missions in support of ASSF elements. They continue to demonstrate improvements in operational effectiveness and efficiency, as well as independence. During early 2018, the Afghans executed 95 percent of all SMW operations independently. Most SMW missions during this period were CT operations, with air movements, CASEVAC, and a smaller number of CN operations. The SMW remained agile and capable of executing increasing numbers of planned and short-notice missions in support of ASSF.
The SMW is capable of fielding helicopter assault forces at night and from multiple locations, unilaterally. More than 85 percent of Mi-17 missions and 100 percent of PC-12 missions were flown unilaterally. In the first half of FY 2018, the SMW flew a total of 5,237 hours without incident. They flew successfully in multi-ship formations, using NVGs, and often in zero illumination conditions. Of the more than 2,770 Mi-17 hours flown during the period, more than 68 percent were flown utilizing NVGs.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|