The Afghan National Air Force makes up one of the Corps of the Afghan Army. When it was reconstituted after a national government was restored, it consisted of very little equipment and fewer personnel. The existing aircraft dated from the Soviet occupation and only a handful were flyable. None had modern communication or navigation equipment.
During the last several years, the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) has assisted the Afghan government with renewing the Air Force as a contributing member of the Afghan National Security Forces. Aircraft needs were assessed and new aircraft have been purchased or donated and are being placed into service. Both ground and flight personnel have been trained or had prior training brought up to date.
The Army is an infantry heavy counter-insurgency force. It requires an Air Force with the capacity to move personnel and materials by air, often into mountains at elevation. It also requires an Air Force that can provide ground attack support for Afghan Army operations.
At this time the, Air Force moves troops and supplies using the AN-32 transport, the C-27 transport and the MI-17 helicopter. The Afghans are in the process of bringing into service MI-24’s, the Hind Attack Helicopter. Six of these were donated by the Czech Republic and the others were Afghan and refurbished. The Czechs are also providing instructor pilots and technical advisers for the Hinds. The AN-32’s are being phased out as the C-27″s arrive.
As of August 11, 2010, The Afghan Air Force consisted of 3,895 personnel and 49 aircraft. Regular briefing on the progress of the Air Force have been given by Brigadier General Michael R. Boera, commanding general, Combined Air Power Transition Force, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command- Afghanistan, and commander, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, Kabul, Afghanistan. In his August 11 brief, he also discussed the progress in reestablishing the Afghan airbase at Shindand. Shindand will be the first Air Force base. Air Force units currently share their airfields with commercial aircraft. Shindand will also become the training center for the Afghan Air Force.
The Afghan Air Force has been actively planning and running its own missions in many instances. Four Afghan MI-17’s are currently operating with Pakistani forces in a humanitarian mission in the flooded regions of Pakistan. A recent medical evacuation mission allowed severely burned women to be moved to a hospital for care.
The Air Force does face challenges, and General Boera has pointed out several in his briefs. Perhaps the most critical is the cultural change to a mindset where mission plans and orders through a chain of command will replace a phone call from someone in Kabul. The General called the practice “cellphone command and control”. Planning and prioritizing are important to the future of Afghan Air Force.
Manning and staffing concerns are an issue as with the rest of the Afghan National Security Forces. Literacy is a concern where nearly all enlistees are illiterate, and non-commissioned officers and officers must be. One of the programs NTM-A is using to solve this throughout the military and in the Air Force takes literate men fresh from Basic Training and runs them through a special non-com course.
NTM-A is also short of trainers in some important areas. The MI-17’s need trained crew chiefs in the back for many of their missions. Finding trainers to train these crew chiefs has been a challenge, Boera said. He has been able to interest other allied units in Afghanistan to loan personnel for such training.
General Boera feels strongly that seeing the Afghan Air Force, with rescue and humanitarian missions as well as supporting the Army, gives Afghan civilians a visible symbol of the national government and what it can provide. The hope for the Air Force lies in the new eagles of Afghanistan, the young officers and airmen that are not stymied by the past.