Afghan Air Force (AAF)
Books on Afghanistan
"The Special Mission Wing or SMW provides the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) with the operational reach and manned Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance capability to support counter terrorism and counter narcotics missions." 9.
The Afghan Air Force stood up the Special Mission Wing (SMW) in the summer of 2012. The SMW has had a slow start with problems in fielding aircraft and recruiting personnel. However, it seems the SMW has now hit its stride.
Mission Statement of 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) operations in support of Afghan Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense Special Security Forces (ASSF). 8.
Origins of Special Mission Wing. The SMW was created from a former Ministry of Interior (MoI) air unit that provided support to Afghan special units that conducted counternarcotics and counterterrorism operations. The MoI unit was orginally organized in 2005 as the MoI's Air Interdiction Unit. The SMW commenced operations as a joint MoD/MoI unit in 2012.
Support to MoI and MoD. The SMW conducts multi-functional aviation operations in direct support of ANA Commandos, ANA Special Forces, Ktah Khas, and GCPSU national mission units. The SMW is the only air mobility capability in Afghanistan able to project Afghan SOF combat power in low visibility, and provides the only ANSF ISR capability (as of Feb 2015). In early 2015, the SMW was reorganized under the MoD.
Counter Terrorism Mission. The Special Mission Wing provides rapid, precision airlift to aid Afghanistan's elite forces in dismantling terror networks and to conduct targeted operations against insurgent leaders and organizations.
Counter Narcotics Mission. One of Afghanistans biggest problems is its drug trafficking. The Special Mission Unit supports Afghan units who help prevent the cultivation, production, and smuggling of illegal narcotics, which is considered a major funding source of the insurgents and other criminal networks.
Organization. The SMW is an MoD independent air wing organized into four squadrons. The headquarters and two squadrons are located in Kabul. One squadron is located in Kandahar. A fourth squadron will be located in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Early Problems with Special Mission Wing. The Afghans have a lot of funding for its Special Mission Wing. Unfortunately, it appears to be off to a rough start. Reports indicate that there are not enough pilots available and that there are not enough trained support, logistics, and maintenance personnel to keep the aircraft in the air. 1. Although ISAF Special Operations are working hard to correct this it may be quite a while before it is an effective air wing that can support Afghan special operations. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has published a report (June 2013) highly critical of the birth of the Special Mission Wing. 2.
Chronic Issues for the SWM. There are several issues that hinder the growth of the SWM. These include authorizations for manning (an increased tashkil with the appropriate specialties), the never-ending problem of ANSF logistics, command and control issues (who does the SMW work for?), lack of appropriate training, and other mundane problems such as adequate transportation and housing. On top of all this there is the U.S. Congress responding to the politics of Connecticut and a few other states where Sirkorsky makes their helicopters.
SMW Personnel. There were at the start of 2013 less than 200 personnel to fill the force structure of the Special Mission Wing. Many of these personnel are still in training. The tashkil for the SMW is said to number 806 personnel.
Mi-17 Helicopters. The Special Mission Wing has thirty Mi-17s in its fleet. Some were porvided by the U.S., Germany and United Kingdom and ten are on loan from the Afghan Air Force (AAF). Many of these are non-operational due to spare parts and maintenance problems. The Mi-17 helicopter will provide medium lift air assault infil/exfil, personnel transport, CASEVAC, and QRF.
Funding for Thirty New Aircraft. The Pentagon has awarded $772 million in contracts for 30 new rotary wing aircraft; however, this contract is being questioned by SIGAR (on grounds that the SMU is not ready for the aircraft) and by Congress. 4. In addition, members of Congress are upset that that Russian firm also provides weapons to the Syrian military.
SMW Fixed-Wing Air Fleet. It is planned that the SMW will have fixed wing aircraft as well. In October 2012 the Pentagon awarded Sierra Nevada Corporation 3. a contract to provide for eighteen Pilatus PC-12 turboprops worth $218 million; which will give the SMU a fixed wing capability. The aircraft is manufactured by Pilatus Aircraft of Switzerland; its line of PC-12 aircraft are pictured here. The U-28A is a variant of the Pilatus PC-12 and is flown by the 318th and 319th Special Operations Squadrons of the USAF. The single-engine turboprop comes in many variants to include transport, resupply, and ISR and can operate out of remote locations. The PC-12s provide the SMW with an ISR capability that can give a ground feed to Afghan commandos. This live video feed of targets allow commanders on the ground to make real-time adjustments. Up until early 2015 2 of the 3 crew members of the PC-12s were Afghans. Learn more about the Afghan Air Force's PC-12s.
Facilities for SMW. In addition to the purchase of aircraft and the cost of training - there are other costs associated with standing up the Special Mission Wing. The costs of building regional support facilities 5. can be added to the other more apparent costs.
Advanced Training. The crews for the Special Mission Wing receive advanced training in the Mi-17 to include a lot of night flying under Night Vision Goggles (NVGs). Some of the advanced training is conducted by Counter Narco-Terrorism Global Support instructors most likely provided by Northrop Grumman. This training is conducted by air advisors and trainers to the Afghan Air Force.
U.S. House of Representatives Votes to Withhold Training Funds. The House recently (July 2013) passed an amendment 6. to the 2013 Department of Defense appropriations bill to prevent funds being used by DoD to train Afghans on operating or maintaining Mi-17 helicopters. This was an amendment put forward by Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to try and force DoD to purchase Sirkorsky Blackhawk helicopters for the Afghan Special Mission Wing. Of course, politics plays a big part in this - DeLauro represents the district that is the home of Sirkorsky Corporation in Connecticut. So, instead of providing funds for helicopters that are already bought she is punishing the Afghans (and U.S. taxpayers) by preventing the training that is needed to put the helicopters in the air.
777th Joint Air Brigade. This specialized Afghan Air Force unit is tasked with supporting special operations forces of the ANA, ANP, and NDS in the conduct of night raids in Afghanistan. The brigade was established in 2012. 7.
RS HQs, Special Mission Wing, Trifold,
February 4, 2015.
Atkins, William. "ANASOC Commandos and Special
Mission Wing: Working On Their Night Moves", SFActs, March 2014,
page 4 and 11.
U-28A. U.S. Air Force. The U-28A is a variant of
Afghanistan's Special Mission Wing - Facebook.
August 12, 2015. "Special Mission Wing maintenance training aims at sustaining fleet". DVIDS.
May 16, 2015. "Female Aviator breaking ground in Afghanistan". Army Times. Captain Lisa Becker is assigned to the Special Operations Aviation Group which trains, advises, and assists the Afghan Special Mission Wing.
September 17, 2013. "U.S. lawmakers ask Holder to back probe into Russian helicopter program". Reuters.
August 9, 2013. "Russian State Arms Dealer Denies Overcharging for Afghan Helicopters". Radio Free Europe. Rosoboroneksport disputes price increase of 400%.
August 9, 2013. "Russian helicopters ideally suited for use in Afghanistan - Rosoboronexport". Russia Beyond the Headlines.
July 31, 2013. "Senate panel moves to gut Pentagon $$ for contract with Russian firm supplying Assad". Fox News. Rosobornexport was to supply Mi-17s.
July 25, 2013. "Special Mission Wing Unit: Gaining momentum as it graduates its second class of pilots and crew chiefs". DVIDS. Eight crew members complete specialized ten-week long training aviation training course on the Mi-17. Graduates of the training now wear the 777 Green Platoon Special Mission Wing unit patch on their right shoulder.
July 14, 2013. "Nacent Afghan Air Force Struggles to Add Air Assault Capability". Stars and Stripes. Although ISAF says the Afghan Air Force (AAF) is steadily increasing its capability - one has to wonder it their statements are all just lots of PR and IO!
July 13, 2013. "Congress fuming over US purchase of Russian helicopters for Afghanistan". Stars and Stripes. Afghanistan will have 86 Russian-made Mi-17s by 2016.
July 5, 2013. "U.S. Congress Advised Against Afghan Aircraft Buys". Aviation International News Online. Special Mission Wing doesn't have the personnel to fly or maintain the aircraft it currently has; report says SMW shouldn't receive new aircraft.
June 28, 2013. "U.S. watchdog raps Pentagon for buying aircraft for Afghan unit". Reuters. Agency critical of buying Mi-17s for Special Operations Air Wing.
June 25, 2013. "SIGAR Warns Pentagon Against Afghan Weapons Purchase". Defense News. Pentagon warned off on acquiring 30 Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters.
May 27, 2013. "Afghan Air Force Struggles to Take Off". Radio Free Europe.
April 4, 2013. "Sorry Congress, Defense Dept Sticking With Russian Helicopter Deal". Forbes.com. Defense to go ahead with buying 30 Mi-17 helicopters for AAF.
October 12, 2011. "Pilatus Aircraft Introduce the PC-12 Spetre Special Mission Aircraft". Defense Update. The single-prop can do medevacs, transport, and resupply.
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.
3. For more on the Sierra Nevada Corp contract for PC-12NG planes for the Afghans see "Afghan SpecOps gets PC-12NG Transport Planes", Defense Industry Daily, October 17, 2012. Access news report here.
4. See letter by Senator McCain dated July 11, 2013 expressing concern on
the sale of aircraft to the SMW at this
5. See Solicitation W912DQ-13-R-4011 dated 24 Sep 2012 for the construction of buildings on Kandahar airfield for the SMW. Posted on the US Army Corps of Engineers website.
6. For more on the amendment to prevent DoD from using funds to train pilots and maintainers of the SMW see "Afghanistan: Withholding Helicopter Training Undermines U.S. Mission", The Foundry Blog of the Heritage Foundation, July 29, 2013. Read the blog post here.
7. For more on the 77th Joint Air Brigade read "AAF Special Brigade '777' Leads Night Raids Successfully", Tolo News, January 13, 2015.
8. See Resolute Support SMW Trifold dated 4 February 2015 for mission
9. Info from a Resolute Support HQs news release on March 5, 2015.