Forces: Afghan Air Force Flies Hard

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August 15, 2009: The Afghan Air Force currently has 24 helicopters (15 Mi-17 transports and nine Mi-35 gunships) and five twin engine transports (five AN-32s and one AN-26). In June, these aircraft flew 665 sorties (about 21 per aircraft). They carried 8,640 passengers and 58.8 tons of cargo. These aircraft are not operating at the same tempo as American aircraft, mainly because the Afghans still have shortages of maintenance personnel. In a nation with only a 30 percent literacy rate, it's difficult for the military to get technical personnel (and those it trains, are quickly lost to better paying, and safer, civilian firms).

Seven 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. The Afghan Air Force (officially the ANAAC, or Afghan National Army Air Corps) will, by 2015, have 7,400 troops and 127 aircraft. These will include 61 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 301 graduate so far, and currently has 46 men undergoing training overseas and in Afghanistan. The G.222s will begin deliveries this year. About half the helicopters are already in service, as well as the An-32s and An-26s.

Earlier this year, the Afghan air force was flying 90 percent of the missions required by the Afghan armed forces. That amounted to about 260 sorties a month, moving 3,800 passengers and about 35 tons of cargo. There were also about 32 medevac missions a month. This was a huge jump since early 2007, when there were only 20 active aircraft and about 4,000 personnel. The Afghans have demonstrated that they can make what they have, work. 

 

 


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