The Afghan Air Force for the time will get organic intelligence reconnaissance capability for the first time as efforts are underway to expand the capabilities of the Afghan forces.
The NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan in its latest report has said the airpower of the AAF includes the Mi-17 (for air transport of troops and cargo, medical evacuations, and attack), the A-29 (a strike aircraft), the MD-530 (a small attack helicopter), the C-130 (airlift), and the C-208 (airlift with airdrop capability).
The report further adds that AAF is expanding and will include new capabilities such as the AC-208, an aircraft which, for the first time, will provide the AAF an organic intelligence surveillance reconnaissance capability. Also, they will be empowered with 159 new UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and additional A-29s and MD-530s.
In the meantime, the alliance informs regarding the unprecedented progress the Afghan Air Force has made recently.
“Just as one example, last year, the Afghans led, planned, and executed a medical evacuation in which they managed to transport a soldier from the battlefield to a medical facility within one hour, the golden hour, saving his life,” explained U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Terisa Filner, TAAC-Air medical superintendent.
This is just one example of how the Afghans have excelled in routine medical evacuations. In 2016 they successfully transported about 10,000 wounded soldiers for medical care. This translates into saving many lives, she added.
Another success highlighted by these NCOs was the first-ever operation to resupply forward deployed Afghan soldiers earlier this year, in which the Afghans led and executed an airdrop of 650 pounds of critical supplies in support of ground forces.
According to Resolute Support mission, a mission critical component of these successes are the air-to-ground coordination team and the Fly Away Security team. FAST provides security to the aircraft and the crew.
“The air-to-ground coordination team owns the battlefield. They are responsible to validate strikes and avoid civilian casualties. They cipher altitudes, set priorities of fires, set structure levels to destroy, suppress or neutralize the enemy, make safety calls, and constantly make life or death decisions with the ground commander,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 4 Davis R. Kalcevic, 438th Air Expeditionary Attack Squadron, – Train, Advise, Assist MD 530, instructor pilot.
Air power is a key capability that insurgents do not have, which places extra importance on the AAF mission. To put their successes into perspective, it takes about five to 10 years to build an Afghan pilot during peacetime. The AAF, with the help of coalition forces, is professionalizing these pilots and experts in about 18 months without sacrificing quality.
To save time, Afghan candidates are recruited directly from officer school. They undergo an aggressive process, conducting part-task training, which means concentrating efforts on specific areas they will be performing.
“We are building an enterprise. It is not only about the aircraft, it’s about maneuvering, maintenance, weather planning and sustainment. They have an authorized force of 8,017 members, and in 2017 we are on pace to meet or exceed the missions from 2016,” explained Brig. Gen. Phillip A. Stewart, TACC-Air commander, during the mission brief.
The new generation of Afghan leaders are striving for continued success, according to TAAC-Air leadership.
“The next generations of Afghan senior leaders will definitely help the junior enlisted and young NCOs to succeed and find their way … the new generation of Afghan airman and soldiers will thrive. There is no doubt,” Thetford said.
He was referring to current initiatives by Resolute Support leadership to bring new generations of leaders and position them in key areas of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.