October 30, 2014:
The U.S. has agreed to provide Afghanistan with 62 more armed helicopters and twenty ground attack aircraft, including training for Afghan pilots and maintainers, by 2017. The helicopters are the MD-530F, which is the civilian version of the U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) MH-6. Used for scouting and commando operations the MH-6 (and the similar AH-6) were developed from the 1960s era OH-6. Developed in the early 1980s, the MH/AH-6, or "Little Bird" is a 1.4 ton helicopter with a crew of two, top speed of 280 kilometers an hour. Average sortie is 3-3.5 hours. It can be armed with two 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine-gun pods, or two 70mm rocket pods (seven or 12 rockets each) or four Hellfire missiles. Without weapons, the MH-6 can carry six troops (usually Special Forces operators) externally. The MH-6 has endurance of about 90 minutes as it usually carries a full load of weapons or passengers. The new MH-6 can also carry a day/night targeting system, including a laser designator and laser guided missiles.
The ground attack aircraft is the A-29 Super Tucano. This is a single engine turbo-prop trainer/attack aircraft that is used by over a dozen nations. This aircraft carries two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns along with 1.5 tons of bombs and rockets under the wings. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time. This aircraft can be equipped to carry over a half dozen of the 250 pound GPS smart bombs (or half a dozen dumb 500 pound bombs), giving it considerable firepower. The Super Tucano comes equipped with a GPS guidance system. Max altitude is 11,300 meters (35,000 feet) and cruising speed is 400 kilometers an hour.
Naturally, this aircraft can move in lower and slower than any jet can. The Super Tucano is also equipped with armor for the pilot, a pressurized cockpit, and an ejection seat. Not bad for an aircraft with a max takeoff weight of 5.4 tons. It is rugged, easy to maintain, and cheap. The U.S. is paying under $20 million for each Super Tucano, which includes training, spare parts, and support equipment.
Afghanistan already has hundreds of pilots who could quickly learn how to handle the Super Tucano and the U.S. will provide training for over a hundred pilots and maintainers. This is to make the Afghan Air Force self-sustaining with these 82 new aircraft and trained personnel. Less certain is the impact of the corruption that is still rampant in the Afghan military and the tendency for technical people, like pilots and maintainers, to leave the military for better paying and safer jobs in the civilian sector.