Afghanistan has acquired twelve more MD 530F Cayuse Warrior Scout Attack Helicopters, MD Helicopters reported on Tuesday 11 January. The purchase follows an earlier order for twelve similar helicopters, the first of which arrived in Afghanistan early last year.
The first twelve armed helicopters were operational in theater in fewer than nine months from contract award and have participated in a number of successful operations. Afghanistan already operated five MD 530F helos before, operating them as primary training aircraft in Afghanistan. These choppers have since been upgraded to the Cayuse Warrior configuration.
The 12 new Cayuse Warrior Scout Attack helicopters will be delivered in the first half of 2016, MD Helicopters says.
The Afghan Air Force had its first class of eight pilots graduate on 17 December 2015 on its new primary combat aircraft: the Embraer A-29B Super Tucano. They were trained on Moody Air Force Base in the United States by staff of the 81st Fighter Squadron.
In March this year the then student pilots made their first real-life sorties on board the A-29 in the skies of the state of Georgia, a month after classroom training started and two months after the 81st FS was reactivated just for the Afghan Air Force Super Tucano – of which 20 were bought by Washington to equip the Asian country with some sort of fixed-wing air combat element.
Al-Quada hide-outs in Afghanistan
The White House and Capitol Hill apparently felt an obligation to rebuild the nation’s military after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in reaction to terror airplane attacks in Washington and New York City that destroyed NYC’s World Trade Center and parts of the Pentagon in DC. When the Osama bin Laden led al-Qaeda organisation claimed responsibility the American military went after their hide-outs in Afghanistan and took on the destabilizing Taliban forces in that country as well.
Granted the US for Afghan deal in February 2013 through the US based Sierra Nevada Corporation, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer set up store at Jacksonville in Florida to let US personnel assemble the so-called Light Air Support Aircraft (LAS) in a 40,000 square foot hangar.
The A-29 Super Tucano will form the backbone of the Afghan Air Force combat element, giving the Afghans something quicker and more versatile to field than the Mil Mi-35 helicopters it is replacing. Training in January started on three machines only, with only a few USAF Airmen. Now that the first eight students have graduated, the 81st FS will continue to train 20 more pilots over the next three years.
The training program made headlines in December when two Afghan military personnel failed to show up for work while in the US. The two have been missing since 8 December and when found, will be deported back to Afghanistan, US authorities say.
Shipped to Afghanistan the first A-29s will take up the fight when the Mi-35s are retired in January 2016. This seems all rather quick-quick and it is. In fact, US Air Force Major-General James Hecker, the commander of the 81st Fighter Squadron’s 19th Air Force, acknowledges the Afghan pilots and their American instructors “had to push it” since pilot training on a new aircraft type normally takes two to three years. The Afghan Air Force A-29 pilots had to be ready in 11 months.
Low-cost close-air support
The A-29 is currently considered to be the world’s best low-cost CAS/COIN aircraft, with an operational cost of about 1,000 to 3,000 US dollar per flying hour – use of weapons not included. For a normal attack or fighter aircraft the prize per hour is at least US$ 18,000.
Largest A-29 customer
Embraer so far delivered around 190 EMB 314/A-29 Super Tucanos of at least 230 aircraft ordered. Largest customer is the Brazilian Air Force, having received 33 A-29A single-seaters and 66 A-29B two-seaters between 2003 and 2012, with so far four aircraft lost in accidents. Worldwide the fleet has logged more than 180,000 flight hours and 28,000 combat hours.
An Afghan Air Force Mil (Russian Helicopters) Mi-17 (“Hip”) medium-lift helicopter crashed on 6 August, killing five crew members and 12 troops on board. The crash and loss of life have been confirmed by the Afghan Ministry of Defence, but the type of rotary wing has officially not been disclosed yet.
However, the Mi-17 is the only chopper in the Afghan Air Force that is able to carry the number of personnel mentioned, as we believe a few older similar Mi-8s are no longer flyable. The helicopter went down in the Zabul province, in the south of the country. No details have been released on the mission that was being executed by the crew and pilots. Preliminary Kabul blames a technical failure for the crash.
Providing the Afghan National Army with its wings, the Afghan Air Force has at least 87 Mil Mi-17s, many delivered over the last couple of years as part of a re-weaponize program led by the United States, after internationally backed US Armed Forces invaded the country hunting for both the terrorist organisations behind the September 2011 attacks in New York and Washington, as well as the Taleban fighters destabilizing Afghanistan.
The Mi-17s (NATO-codename Hip) are not only used for regular transport, but provide medical evacuation (medevac) as well as insert/extract special forces.
The Afghan Air Force Hercules unit is complete, after the fourth and final Lockheed C-130H the Asian nation receives from the USA landed at Hamid Karzai IAP of Kabul on 20 June 2015. All aircraft fly with AAF 1 Wing.
Airmen of Little Rock AFB in Arkansas keep supporting the Afghan Air Force crews in managing to operate the aircraft, which were introduced in 2010 after the US top generals stopped Afghan C-27A operations in a controversial move, with delivery of those Spartans more or less already halfway.
Five years later the Afghan tactical airlift fleet depends mostly on the now four C-130s. The first two arrived in 2013, a third mid-2014 and this month the last touched down. If the maintenance crews can keep the machines airborne, they will be a hard sought after commodity for the Afghan military forces which are still battling Taleban troops supported by other nations like the US and many NATO contries.
“Afghanistan needs to perform more missions and having a fourth C-130 allows for that,” Afghan Air Force Captain and C-130 pilot Muhammad Azimy says to US military reporters. “We need to support more troops, moving them as soon as possible from one point to another, getting them into the fight faster. Getting commandos from the north to the south by helicopter would take days, but by C-130 it will take only a few hours.”
After pressure from USAF senior officials the US Department of Defense scrapped the already procured 16 Alenia G222s, aka C-27As, from the Afghan Air Force service in 2012. At the time of the cancellation 12 of the 16 were mission-ready at Kabul with Afghan personnel partly responsible for the aircraft. According to critics the personnel competence problems with operating the Hercules will be the same as with the C-27s. With a lower number of aircraft – 4 against 16 – the transport fleet of the Afghan Air Force will be very much relying on US forces for some time to come.
The US State Department has approved a possible sale of six A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Lebanon, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in Washington announced on 9 June. The aircraft would support Lebanon in holding off Islamic State (IS) at the eastern border with Syria.
The proposed sale includes associated equipment, parts and logistical support for an estimated cost of 462 million USD. According to the DCSA, the sale of the Super Tucanos ‘will provide Lebanon with a much needed Close Air Support (CAS) platform to meet present and future challenges posed by internal and border security threats’.
The Super Tucano was originally developed by Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer. Prime contractor in the US is Sierra Nevada Corporation, which builds the type in Jacksonville, Florida. Super Tucanos are currently being built for the Afghan Air Force. Other contractors are BAE Systems and Pratt & Whitney.