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Forces: Afghan Air Force Grows
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November 13, 2011: The Afghan Army Air Force continues to grow. In the last year it has gained a thousand personnel (for a total of 5,000), and 26 aircraft (for a total of 66, mostly Mi-17 transports and Mi-35 gunship helicopters). In addition to the helicopters there are also Russian transports and Italian transports and some trainers. Eventually, there are to be 8,000 personnel and 145 aircraft, mostly helicopters and transports, plus trainers that can double at light attack aircraft.

The current aircraft are not operating at the same tempo as American aircraft, mainly because the Afghans have chronic shortages of maintenance personnel. In a nation with only a 30 percent literacy rate, it's difficult for the military to get technical personnel. Worse yet, those it trains, are often lost to better paying, and safer, civilian firms.

There is also a generation gap between the older pilots (average age 46) who were trained by the Russians and speak Russian as a second language. These men are experienced, but they don't get along with the younger, American trained, pilots. These guys are in their 20s and 30s and speak English as a second language. Although less experienced, the younger pilots are more adept with new technology (like night vision goggles) and operating with American aircraft. The older pilots feel underappreciated and left behind. There is friction and morale suffers because of it. The older pilots cannot be fired, because most of them flew for the Northern Alliance, the group that was still fighting the Taliban on September 11, 2001.

Nine years ago, as the post-Taliban Afghan government began planning their new armed forces; it was believed that the Afghan air force would probably consist of a few dozen transports and armed trainer aircraft, plus a few dozen transport helicopters (some of them armed). Russia would be a likely donor (or seller, at attractive prices) of the equipment as the Afghans have been using Russian air force equipment for more than 30 years. Eventually, Afghanistan would want jet fighters, but foreign aid donors would resist spending any money on these. Russia could donate some older combat aircraft (currently in storage and wasting away anyway), but even the Afghan government would probably prefer to use the native pilots they have for transports and helicopters, which would be of more use in the next few years.

The original plan has been working, more or less. By 2015 the air force is to have a force consisting of over 60 helicopters (Mi-17 transports and Mi-35 gunships), 28 transports (20 G.222s, 6 AN-32s and 2 AN-26s). The remaining aircraft are single engine trainers, some of them used for ground attack. The air force has a pilot training program, which has produced over 400 graduates so far, and some of the men (and a few women) are undergoing training overseas.

A major problem is hanging on to trained personnel. There are few suitable people to recruit in the first place. Afghanistan has only a low literacy rate, and anyone who can speak English can make more as an interpreter for the American troops, rather than flying for the Afghan Air Force. Same with maintenance personnel who, even if they don't speak English, can leave the country and get a much better paying job elsewhere with their aircraft maintenance skills. Thus as the Afghan Air Force is being built, it is also in a perpetual state of disintegration.

 

 

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