The Afghan Air Force (AAF) MD-530F helicopters will be retrofitted with the Enhanced Mission Equipment Package (EMEP) in a bid to convert the trainers into light attack gunships.
The upgrade work will be done by the McDonnell Douglas, a major American aerospace manufacturing corporation and defense contractor, at its facility in Mesa, Arizona.
A spokesperson for the company has said the upgraded version of the helicopters will be returned to theatre in early 2016.
The source further added that the converted helicopters will join 12 armed MD 530F Cayuse Warrior helicopters (known as ‘Jengi’ [Warrior] by the AAF) that were contracted by the US Army in October 2014.
The five training helicopters were flown out of Shindand Air Base in Herat Province (six were delivered, but one was lost to an improvised explosive device [IED] in 2013).
This comes as the first successful deployment of the Afghan Air Force (AAF) MD-530 helicopters was marked during an operation in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Pictures showing the helicopters flying in support of the Afghan national security forces were published this evening by Train Advise Assist Command-East (TAAC-E) which is part of NATO’s Resolute Support (RS) mission in Afghanistan.
The helicopters were shown flying over Forward Operating Base Connelly, Nangarhar province, in support of Operation Iron Triangle.
“This operation marks the first successful employment of armed MD-530 helicopters in support of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as they continue clearing the districts of Khogyani, Sherzad and Hisarak of insurgents,” according to TAAC-E.
The Afghan Air Force received the first six armed MD-530s from United States earlier in the month of March this year.
Pentagon awarded MD Helicopters Inc. a maximum $44.2 million firm-fixed-price contract last year to develop and provide an armament package for the MD-530F helicopters that were already supplied to the Afghan Air Force.
Around 17 of the Afghan Air Force’s MD-530F helicopter will be upgraded under the contract which is expected to be completed early next year.
The helicopters will be equipped with air-to-surface rockets in a bid to further boost the close air support capabilities of the air force.
The US army has awarded a contract worth $13.2 million to add the seven-tube M260 launcher for the 70mm (2.75 inch) rockets to MD-530Fs supplied by the United States to the Afghan Air Force, the IHS Janes defence weekly reported quoting US Department of Defense (DoD) last month.
MD-530F helicopters are designed for high altitude and/or hot weather operations, where thinner air costs helicopters some of their lift.