KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan Air Force MD-530s and Mi-17 helicopters departed Hamid Karzai International Airport to participate in operations in Helmand province Sept. 27.
The MD-530 Warrior, or “Jengi” in Dari, is the newest in the Afghan Air Force’s arsenal to support convoy escort, aerial reconnaissance, armed over-watch, and close air support to Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).
The Afghan Air Force leaders decided, with the coordination of the Ministry of Defense, to deploy the helicopters to participate in combat missions in the southwest zone, said Col. Bahadur, AAF public affairs officer through an interpreter.
“It is necessary to mention the MD-530 helicopters are maneuverable and have low fuel consumption,” he said. “It is very efficient for domestic operations.”
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jim Abbott, MD-530 adviser at Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air (TAAC-Air), said this first expeditionary operation to Helmand province is tangible proof this very aggressive program is showing results.
“These young pilots have gone from zero light-attack experience to operational sorties in just six months,” said “As they become more seasoned as pilots, and these attack assets come online, they will be the backbone of a sustainable Afghan air-to-ground integration capability.”
Abbott, a helicopter pilot with more than 20 years of experience, said a TAAC-Air adviser’s role is to mentor and advise the Afghan pilots prior to every mission. This includes planning, mitigating risk, debriefing aircrews and coordinating support of AAF and ANDSF missions.
“(TAAC-Air) advisers watched (the Afghan air crews) plan the deployment and arrange all the details completely on their own,” he said. “We have a U.S. adviser with them now and he mentors and advises them before every mission. This is not because (the Afghan) crews necessarily need it, but because the ANDSF are still learning how to correctly employ this aircraft.”
“The Afghan Air Force continues to grow and every year, especially this past year, we’re getting equipment, like aircraft and training through our international friends,” Bahadur said. “The young guys are getting well trained and educated.”
The MD-530 is a close-air attack aircraft. Adding to the growing AAF, it provides critical offensive air-to-ground capability. Each MD-530 is armed with two HMP 400 .50-caliber machine gun pods, which enables Afghan pilots to effectively engage the enemy.
To accommodate the extra weight of the equipment, the helicopters were upgraded with high-capacity landing gear, allowing take-off and landing with a maximum weight of 3,750 pound (1,700 kg) through the incorporation of jettisonable external fuel tanks.
“The Afghan crews have risen to the occasion and are performing a very demanding mission set,” Abbott said.
TAAC-Air and the AAF are preparing for the delivery of 20 A-29 Super Tucano counterinsurgency turboprops that will go into the AAF inventory. The aircraft, Afghan pilots, and maintainers are currently at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, completing mission training. The first aircraft are expected to arrive in Afghanistan in early 2016.