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Afghan Air Force (AAF)

"The Afghan Air Force is responsible for air mobility and close air attack in a country defined by large mountains in the north and wide-open plains in the south. Helping reach some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan, the AAF provides air assets for logistics, resupply, humanitarian relief efforts, human remains return (HeRo), casualty evacuation, non-traditional ISR, air interdiction, close air attack, armed overwatch and aerial escort". 23.


Helicopter Afghan Air Force (AAF)
Helicopter AAF (Photo RS HQs Facebook)

Over the past decade the Afghan Air Force (AAF) has been given a low priority when compared to the Afghan National Army or ANA. However, the coalition will soon leave Afghanistan and take its robust air support with it - leaving the ANA and ANP without reliable air assets. The Afghanistan National Army Air Corps was established in 2007 but it got off to a rough start. It was later redesignated the Afghan Air Force in June 2010. 11. 

Current Status and Long-Term Outlook. According to a recent DoD report (Dec 2015) the "Afghan Air Force (AAF) continues to improve in providing airlift, conducting casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) operations, and delivering aerial fires. Nonetheless, the AAF will require coalition support for several years in order to build institutional functions and continue development of their human capital, particularly aircrews and maintenance personnel.". 30.  

Afghan National Air Force During Soviet Occupation. The Afghan Air Force was fairly robust during the Soviet period of assistance. ". . . Afghanistan's air force had up to 500 aircraft, including 200 helicopters, 100 fighter jets and as many as 7,000 personnel." 31. 

Lack of Early Support from 2001-2009. In 2002 the United States was reluctant to provide assistance to Afghanistan's Air Force. The focus was not on nation-building and the Coalition countries were not interested in forming an Air Force that would be difficult to train, provide with equipment, and expensive to maintain. In addition, the size of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) was to be small - which would help Afghanistan to eventually be able to pay for its own defense establishment. An Afghan Air Force was determined to be cost prohibitive. It wasn't until 2009 that a serious effort to outfit the AAF was undertaken.

Afghan Air Force Personnel. There are more than 6,000 personnel in the Afghan Air Force. Pilots include those trained in earlier years by the Soviets and newer pilots who have received training in the Czech Republic, United States, UAE, and other locations. It is anticipated to have an end-strength of 8,000 personnel once all billets are filled.  Unfortunately, the number of trained AAF personnel is still not yet enough for the amount of aircraft the AAF has. This is the problem when you put the cart (planes) before the horse (personnel). 28

Recruiting Officers for the AAF. Afghans who are between the ages of 18-26 are being recruited for positions of pilot, engineer, and maintenance. Applicants for officer positions are first prequalified at recruiting stations throughout the country. This includes being of good health and having completed a minimum of a 12th grade education. The next step is the application approval process in Kabul, a test for general subjects and knowledge of English (aviation requirement), and then a more thorough medical screening. Those who pass the process may be selected for a position at the Pohantoon-e-Hawayee (PeH) training facility for a year-long officer commissioning program. 32.

Special Mission Wing (SMW). The Afghan Air Force stood up the Special Mission Wing in the Summer of 2012. The SMW has had a slow start and questions about it's slow growth, lack of personnel, and low maintenance capability are persistent.

Afghan Air Bases and Organization.  Currently the AAF operates from three main bases - Kabul, Kandahar, and Shindand. Shindand Air Base is the main training location. Headquarters AAF is located in Kabul and provides command and control (C2) of three wings, the Kabul Air Wing, Kandahar Air Wing, and Shindand Air Wing. HQs also has five air detachments in Mazar-e Sharif, Jalalabad, Shorab, Gardez, and Herat. 23.

Afghan Tactical Air Coordinators (ATACs). ATACS are trained to work with air and ground assets to deconflict issues with airspace by ensuring that operators of artillery, mortars, and other ground-based weapons are aware that aircraft will be in the area, and that the aircraft know the location of the ground forces. Learn more about ATACs.

Planned Number of Aircraft. Current plans for the Afghan Air Force (not including the Special Mission Wing) is for an inventory of 87 Mi-17 transport helicopters, six (or 11?) Mi-35 attack helicopters (to retire in 2016), 20 C-208 turboprop aircraft, four C-130 transports (replacing 20 ground C-27s), and 20 A-29 light attack aircraft (replacing the Mi-35s). 14.

Current Inventory of Aircraft - As of 30 Mar 2016. 26.

24 x C-208 Light Transport Planes (one aircraft crashed & non-usable)
4 x C-130H Medium Transport Aircraft
8 x A-29 Attack Aircraft (20 planned)
49 x Mi-17 Transport Helicopters (56 planned)
10 x MD-530 Helicopters (28 planned, one non-usable)
1 x Mi-35 Attack Helicopters
3 x Cheetah Rotary Wing (from India)

* Note: The numbers above do not include the airframes of the SMW.

Train, Advise, Assist Command - Air. In January 2015, NATC-A (see below) was renamed Train, Advise, Assist Command Air or TAAC-Air. Learn more about TAAC-Air.

Training of AAF. Most of the training for the AAF takes place in Afghanistan. However, there are a number of programs where Afghan pilots and maintainers have received training in the United States. For instance, during March 2015 about 30 pilots and 90 maintainers were at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia receiving training on the A-29 Super Tucano and a defense contractor was conducting training for the AAF in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 26.   A number of foreign countries are involved in training Afghan Air Force personnel to include the United States, India, Italy, Czech Republic, China, and the United Arab Emirates. 33.  

NATO Air Training Command - Afghanistan (NATC-A). The NATC-A was one of the organizations trying to build up and train the Afghan Air force. Many trainers and advisors were members of the U.S Air Force; but there were also advisors and trainers from other countries as well. The U.S. advisors usually are graduates of the Air Advisor Academy. Learn more about the Air Advisors to the Afghan Air Force (AAF).

Early Problems of the Afghan Air Force. The early Afghan Air Force had not covered itself with glory. Much of the fleet (C-27As are a prime example) is not flying due to maintenance issues and spare part shortages. Those planes or helicopters that do fly many times cater to the movement of general officers and VIPs.

AAF Flying Drugs. There was (and probably still is to some extent) a huge amount of corruption in the Afghan Air Force and this was not always visible to the ISAF advisors. The level of transparency of what the AAF is doing with its aircraft is less than adequate. For many years the AAF was known to be moving drugs around the country with its Mi-17s. The U.S. launched two probes of the AAF over the drug running schemes - one by the military and the other by the Drug Enforcement Agency. 9. The NATC-A advisors working with the AAF have tried to develop processes so that the aircraft are not used for "nefarious" purposes but the Afghans have been resistant to oversight. 6.

Illiteracy. There is poor screening of recruits for the Afghan Air Force. Many trainees for pilot training show up not knowing how to read or write. One entire class that showed up for Air Force training couldn't read or write and had to be sent home. 7. Illiteracy in the ANDSF is a widespread problem. Training programs have been instituted to bring Afghan military recruits up to the third grade reading level; but that is not the type of recruit needed to manage, staff, maintain and fly an Air Force. 8.



Types of Aircraft

Mi-17 Helicopters. The Afghan Air Force currently has 87 Mi-17 helicopters in their inventory; with the last three delivered in Fall 2014. The Afghans are using them for transport of VIPs, supplies, conduct of air assaults, light lift, personnel transport, CASEVACs, resupply, air interdiction, aerial escort and armed overwatch. Learn more about the Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopter.

Afghan Mi-17 Helicopter
Afghan Mi-17 Helicopter
Photo: USAF MSgt Keith Brown

Mi-35 Hind Helicopters
There are about five 25. Mi-35 HIND Attack Helicopters in the Afghan inventory; with a lesser amount actually flying. These attack helicopters carry twin-barreled Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23 mm guns, a Yak-B 12.7 mm machine gun, and the S-5 57 mm rocket pod. This provides the AAF a vital air-to-ground capability. The Mi-35 is the export model of the Mi-24 Attack Helicopter. At any given time only two may be flying.

Afghan Mi-35 HIND Attack Helicopter
Mi-35 HIND Photo: USAF

Mi 25 Attack Helicopters. India has provided the AAF with four Mi 25 helicopters. The first one arrived in December 2015 with three more delivered in January 2016.

Cheetal Light Utility Helicopter. India provided the AAF with three of the Cheetal Light Utility helicopers in 2015. They came with trained Afghan pilots and maintenance personnel.

MD 530F Helicopters. The Afghan Air Force utilizes the MD-530F Little Bird helicopters for pilot training at Shindand Air Base in western Afghanistan. In addition, armed MD-530Fs provide close air attack and aerial escort capability. There should about (?) seventeen MD-530Ds in the AAF. Learn more about the AAF's MD-530F helicopter.

MD 530F Helicopter Afghan Air Force
Photo by NATO - MD-530F flying over Kabul

A-29 Super Tocano. The Sierra Nevada Corporation, a U.S.-based firm, received in March 2013 a $427 million contract to provide 20 light-attack aircraft. The counterinsurgency planes, sometimes called a Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft, are being built by the Brazilian firm Embraer. The first A-29s arrived in January 2016.  Learn more about the AAF's A-29 Super Tocano.

A-29 Super Tocano
A-29 Super Tocano (Photo Embraer)

AN-32 Transports. In 2010 the AAF had at least four AN-32 transport aircraft. These have since been retired. Plans were that the AN-32s would be replaced with C-27s; but that didn't work out so well. 12.   

C-27s Light Transport Planes. Approximately 16 C-27As bought and reconditioned by an Italian firm (Alenia Aeronautica) were in the Afghan Air Force; however, these planes were not used very much and many of them did not fly at all. ISAF stated that the C-27 program was discontinued in early 2013 due to maintenance, spare part shortages, and safety issues. Reportedly the Italian firm (and its subcontractor L-3 Systems Field Support) could not maintain the aircraft so 16 C-27s have been 'retired' and sat on pavement at Kabul airport for a few years before being destroyed and sold for scrap. Over $486 million was spent on the twin-turboprop C-27A program. The C-27As replaced a fleet of Antonov An-32 tactical transports - which apparently the Afghans did know how to fly and could maintain. Some reports indicate that the C-27A fielding fell apart because the Italians wouldn't pay outrageous bribes to high-ranking officials of the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD). Since the Italians wouldn't pay the bribes the Afghan MoD cancelled the contract. 13. Not a surprising development; as it is common knowledge that the Afghans have been stealing us blind. What is surprising is that the U.S. Air Force didn't step in to rescue the program. Instead the USAF thought that scrapping the aircraft and replacing them with the more complex C-130s was a better idea. (Naturally, this didn't work out so well either - read more below). In July 2014 the 16 aircraft were destined for the scrap heap and the dismantling process was started to get rid of the embarrassing spectacle of wasted money sitting on the ramp at the Kabul airport. 18. Reportedly, 16 of the 20 aircraft were sold to an Afghan scrap metal dealer for 6 cents a pound, or a total of $32,000. An investigation is being conducted by the Special Inspector General for Reconstruction of Afghanistan (SIGAR) to determine if any effort was made to salvage any of the aircraft parts (engines, instrumentation, etc.) prior to scrapping. In addition, SIGAR is inquiring into the disposition of four C-27As currently at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

C-27A Spartan Aircraft of Afghan Air Force

An Afghan Air Force member directs a C-27 Spartan on the flight line at the Afghan Air Force Base on the Kabul International Airport. (Photo by PO3 Jared Walker, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, December 8, 2010).

C-130H Cargo Planes. Since the Afghans couldn't manage to maintain the C-27s the U.S. Air Force decided to give the Afghans the more expensive and harder to maintain C-130. The U.S. Air Force has provided four C-130H cargo planes to the newly formed Afghan Air Force. Two of the large cargo transports arrived in the Fall of 2013, a third arrived in the fall of 2014, and the fourth arrived in June 2015. The fourth C-130 delivery was delayed; it seems the U.S. Air Force wanted to make sure the Afghans knew what to do with the first three before shipping the last one. Afghan crews have received training in the states. 10. It remains to be seen if the Afghans can maintain the C-130s; it didn't work so well with the C-27s. It is unclear why the Afghans didn't get the J model C-130s. There has been lots of questions about why the more expensive and harder to maintain C-130 were chosen to replace the C-27s. 16. A recent report by SIGAR suggested that the last (of four) C-130 should not have been delivered. 17.

C-130 Afghan Air Force (AAF)
Photo NATC-A, April 20, 2014

C-208B Cessna Caravan. A small prop aircraft used for basic aircraft flight training, light cargo lift, movement of personnel, non-traditional ISR, human remains return, and CASEVAC. The C-208 provides the capability to reach remote regions and landing on dirt runways. There are plans to have 25 C-208s in the inventory. See more on the C-208 at Wikipedia22.  In January 2016 news reports indicated that the DoD approved a foreign military sale (FMS) of 18 x Cessna C-208B Caravan intelligence and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft to support the Afghan Air Force. 29.  

C-208 Cessna Caravan of the Afghan Air Force (AAF)

A Cessna 308 taxies down the flightline of the Kabul Air Wing Sept. 7, 2013. Afghan air force pilots assigned to the 373rd Fixed Wing Squadron marked the first all AAF fixed wing combat mission flown from the Kabul Air Wing. Their advisors assigned to the U.S. Air Force, 538th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, of the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing worked with the AAF Cessna 308 pilots as Coalition Forces draw down and Afghanistan builds up their air force. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Richard Andrade, International Security Assistance Force HQ Public Affairs)

PC-12 Aircraft. The AAF has a number of PC-12 aircraft. It is believed that the PC-12s belong to the Special Mission Wing. The PC-12s provide the SMW with an ISR capability that supports the Afghan Special Forces and Special Police Units. There are plans for up to 18 of the aircraft to be in the inventory. One news report says that the AAF currently has 17 of the PC-12s acquried under at $218 million contract. 27. 


PC-12 Aircraft Afghanistan
PC-12 (Photo RS HQs)

F-35 Program Partner. Reports that the Afghan Air Force will receive the F-35 fighter are probably false; however this news release indicates that four of the new jets may have already been provided to the AAF.



Websites about the Afghan Air Force

Afghan Air Force by Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_Air_Force

Afghan Air Force Facebook
www.facebook.com/AfghanAirForce

Integration Innovation, Inc. Provides Flight Training at Shindand Airbase
www.i3-corps.com/its

Blog Posts on AAF by Afghan War News Blog
www.afghanwarnews.blogspot.com/search/label/Afghan-Air-Force

News Reports about the Afghan Air Force by Afghan War News
www.afghanwarnews.info/air/news-reports-AAF.htm



Videos about the Afghan Air Force (AAF)

Taliban blow up helicopter using an IED inside Afghanistan Army Base, posted on YouTube.com, April 15, 2016.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyuE-xOmISc

A Show of Strength by the Afghan National Airforce, posted by Resolute Support on Youtube.com on February 12, 2016. A 1-min long video depicting the different AAF aircraft flying during an AAF air show for President Ghani in Kabul.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrhOQfWL9n0



Papers about Air Power and the Afghan Conflict

Stubbs, Squadron Leader David. Afghanistan Needs Our Air Power not Our 'Boots on the Ground', RAFCAPS Discussion Paper No. 3, Royal Air Force Centre for Air Power Studies, 2010, page 7. The author advances the argument that the Afghan military needed to train personnel to conduct forward air control duties and to establish regional Theatre Operations Centres.
www.afghanwarnews.info/pubs/AirPowerAfgStubbs2010.pdf



Videos about Afghan Air Force

May 26, 2014. "Afghan air force builds strength, experience". NATO video posted on YouTube.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UzmKCYWRsk

October 3, 2013. "Three Mi-17 Helicopters Delivered to Afghanistan". DoDLive. Video shows three helicopters delivered to Kabul International Airport.
www.dodlive.mil/index.php/2013/10/three-mi-17-helicopters-delivered-to-afghanistan/

May 23, 2013. Afghans Receive New Mi-17 Helicopters. YouTube (courtesy NTM-A).
www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR79BeLI-uQ

December 6, 2012. "Speaking Russian helps Afghan Air Force". NATO video posted on YouTube. AAF pilots build on their Soviet legacy by using Russian language skills to work closely with their Czech mentors for the Hind Mi-35 helicopter.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyVLTEddric


 

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Endnotes

1. For a critique of the Afghan Special Operations Air Wing see "Afghanistan's Elite Air Force Can Barely Fly Its Own Planes or Use Night Vision Gear", Foreign Policy, June 28, 2013. Access the story here.

2. See a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) entitled Afghan Special Mission Wing: DoD Moving Forward with $771.8 Million Purchase of Aircraft that the Afghans Cannot Operate and Maintain, SIGAR Audit 13-13, June 2013. The report can be accessed here.

6. For more on Afghan Air Force running drugs see "Afghan Air Force Suspected of Drug Running: Report", ABC News, March 8, 2012 at this link and "Afghan Air Force: Flying Drug Mules That Fuel Civil War", Danger Room at Wired.com, March 8, 2012 at this link.

7. Info on class sent home for illiteracy is from Air Force MG H.D. "Jake" Polumbo (at one time the top U.S. air commander in Afghanistan; see "Afghan Air Force Waits on Light Attack Aircraft", Defense Tech, April 23, 2013 at this link.

8. Read more on the illiteracy problem in the ANSF in "If Afghan Troops can't read Cat in the Hat, this War is Screwed", Danger Room at Wired.com, August 23, 2010.

9. For more on the drug running by the AAF investigations see a story published by The Wall Street Journal - "Afghan Air Force Probed in Drug Running", March 10, 2012.

10. For more on the U.S. Air Force giving the Afghan Air Force four C-130H transports see "Afghans to receive first C-130 aircraft from US Air Force", Stars and Stripes, September 18, 2013.

11. For more on the ANAAC name change to AAF see Afghan National Army Air Corps now Afghan National Army Air Force,  U.S. Air Forces Central Command, June 14, 2010. See story here.

12. See story - Afghan AN-32s Arrive, Defense Industry Daily, May 12, 2008.

13. See this story for more on the Afghan Air Force and corruption - "Greed and the Safer Aircraft", Strategy Page, January 14, 2013.

14. For numbers of aircraft in the AAF inventory (proposed) see "ISAF Air Training Commander Describes Delicate Balance", American Forces Press Service, September 20, 2013 at this link.

16. For more on the controversial decision to field the C-130s to the AAF see "US Special Inspector General questions C-130 deliveries to Afghanistan", Janes.com, 16 July 2014 at this link.

17. A recent investigation found that two C-130s were underutilized by 50% and when used only carried cargo and/or personnel that smaller aircraft could have carried (like the C27A). The report recommends that the last two (of four total) C-130s not be delivered to save money. See US Efforts to Stand-up Afghan Air Force Still Falling Down, Defense Talk, July 30, 2014 at this link.

18. For more on the scrapping of the C-27 fleet see "Afghan Air Force starts breaking up unwanted C-27As", IHS Jane's 360, August 13, 2014 at his link.

19. For more on ability of the Afghans to maintain the C-130 see "Gift Horses: Afghanistan's C-130 Fleet", Defense Industry Daily, July 16, 2014 at this link.

20. The first A-29 Super Tucano arrived at Moody AFB on September 26, 2014. So 13 years after we invaded Afghanistan and within months found ourselves fighting a counterinsurgency war we have the first COIN air platform ready to train some Afghan air crews. Great progress. See A-29 Super Tucano arrives at Moody AFB, U.S. Air Force News, September 26, 2014 at this link.

22. For more info on the Cessna Caravan C-208 see "This Tiny Plane is an F-16 for Cash-Strapped Air Forces", War is Boring, December 4, 2014. The Cessna Caravan is a transport, spy plane and attacker for small air arms.

23. Text in quotes take from a AAF trifold posted by Resolute Support Headquarters on February 4, 2015.
www.rs.nato.int/images/media/PDFs/RSM/20150204_aaf_trifold_final.pdf

25. Some sources say there are only five Mi-35s in the AAF (or SMW) while others say eleven. What is certain is that on any given day there are probably less than four or five flying.

26. Numbers of aircraft taken from a variety of sources. A couple of sources include Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, DoD 1225 Report, December 2015 and Supplement to SIGAR's January 2015 Quarterly Report to the United States Congress, SIGAR, January 30, 2015. There are varying numbers of aircraft in the inventory - it all depends on who your are listening to. ISAF (now Resolute Support) tends to paint a rosy picture. Sometimes aircraft are counted in the inventory even though they are non-functional. Some numbers reflect future deliveries of aircraft in 2016, 2017 and 2018; so the numbers are quite misleading.
www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/Supplement_2015-01-30qr.pdf#page=17

26. For AAF training info see "Afghans want U.S. to speed up training of Afghan air force", Air Force Times, March 26, 2015.
www.airforcetimes.com/story/military/2015/03/26/afghans-want-faster-training/70495180/

27. For more on the PC-12 see "Small spy planes make big difference on Afghan battlefield", Stars and Stripes, September 26, 2015.
www.stripes.com/news/small-spy-planes-make-big-difference-on-afghan-battlefield-1.370538

28. As of November 2015 the AAF had four C-130s but only one C-130 flight engineer. Read more in "Lack of trained staff means long hours for Afghan air force engineer", Reuters, November 4, 2015.

29. See "Afghanistan to receive C-208B aircraft from Cessna", Airforce-Technolgoy.com, January 22, 2016. The contract is worth $55 million and will provide 18 more C208s.

30. Quote taken from page 3 of Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, DoD, December 2015. www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/1225_Report_Dec_2015_-_Final_20151210.pdf

31. For more on numbers of aircraft during Soviet occupation see page 116 of the SIGAR Quarterly Report to Congress dated 30 April 2016.
www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2016-04-30qr-section3-security.pdf#page=27

32. Read "Recruiting the Afghan Air Force - 'country's future'", DVIDS, August 1, 2016.

33. Read "Over 300 AAF personnel being trained abroad including India", Khaama.com.

 


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