Afghan Air Force Waits on Light Attack Aircraft

Despite years of effort by U.S. trainers, the fledgling Afghan Air Force still lacks the planes and the pilots to bomb and strafe in support of its own ground forces and won’t have that ability anytime soon, the top U.S. air commander in Afghanistan said Tuesday.

“They don’t,” Air Force Maj. Gen. H.D. “Jake” Polumbo said when asked if the AAF had the ability to back up the Afghan army in combat. “They have no close air support capability as we would define it. It will take time,” said Polumbo, director of the air component of the International Security Assistance Force.

In a video briefing to the Pentagon from Kabul, Polumbo said that the AAF should begin getting attack aircraft sometime in 2014 with the hoped for arrival of the first of 20 Embraer A29B Super Tucano light air support prop planes which the U.S. bought for the AAF for $427 million.

But that timetable assumes that the Super Tucanos will survive another challenge for the contract from Beechcraft (formerly Hawker Beechcraft), maker of the competing AT-6B Texan II prop plane. The General Accountability Office is currently reviewing the viability of the Beechcraft challenge, and another round of lawsuits was a possibility.

Kansas lawmakers are backing the challenge from Kansas-based Beechcraft while Florida and Ohio politicians are rallying round the Super Tucano, which would be assembled in Jacksonville, Fla., with avionics made by the Sierra Nevada Corp. at a plant in Centennial, Ohio.

And even assuming that the Super Tucanos arrive on time, there is still the problem of finding Afghans who can be trained to fly them.
Afghans who have been showing up for training in the Afghan Air Force couldn’t read and write, Polumbo said, and an entire class had to be sent home recently because they were illiterate. Flying the Super Tucano “requires English and full literacy capabilities,” Polumbo said.

“Building the AAF from the ground up is no easy task,” said Polumbo, echoing the sentiments of his predecessor as air commander, Maj. Gen. Todd Wolters.

The AAF currently has about 6,000 personnel in the projected overall force of 352,000 soldiers and police in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), but Polumbo said the “early signs are encouraging” for the new Afghan airmen.

The AAF currently is flying aging Russian-made Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters but adding the fixed-wing ability to support ground troops was vital as NATO forces withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014, Polumbo said. “We know that (tactical) air is a critical enabler,” said Polumbo, who doubles as commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan. “The Taliban have no match for it.”

The Afghans and the remaining NATO forces will have to rely for close air support on U.S. and allied fixed-wing aircraft. As the troops withdraw, the air support will increasingly come from “over the horizon” from U.S. carriers in the Persian Gulf and Gulf airbases, Polumbo said.

When the troops are withdrawn, the focus of the air war in Afghanistan will shift to drones for tactical air and reconnaissance, Polumbo said.

“I come back to the remotely piloted aircraft,” Polumbo said. “They can collect intelligence, but they also are armed. And they’re armed to be able to provide force protection to our coalition forces and then when our coalition ground force commanders, when they deem it appropriate, they can control that air-delivered munition capability from the RPAs to be put in support of the Afghans.”

20 Comments on "Afghan Air Force Waits on Light Attack Aircraft"

  1. USS ENTERPRISE | April 23, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Reply

    Oh boy. Well, I mean, we could be giving them A-10's. I wonder these planes will carry. I would imagine they will find work in the Afgan-Paki border, taking on Taliban strongholds. But what will be on the pylons?

  2. USS ENTERPRISE | April 23, 2013 at 9:07 pm | Reply

    Oh. Haha. Just noticed the picture isn't of a Tucano. Defense Tech, c'mon.

  3. They should stick with choppers and artillery for fire support. Giving them fixed wing craft is too many eggs in one basket for them.

  4. Short take off and landing aircraft are really good for transporting drugs, I wonder how long it will be till they are caught…??

  5. Vaughn McCall | April 24, 2013 at 7:59 am | Reply

    Rome wasn’t built in a day, having been a USAF advisor (Morocco, Vietnam (Pacer Bravo), Laos, and Cambodia) also as a civilian (Iran, Greece, and Saudi Arriba) every one is trainable. We did it before and it works, but “Rome wasn’t built in a day” English, Technical English, Technical Training,
    Specific Aircraft/System Training takes time. This process could take a year or more and of course one would hope they could read and write in their own language. We should have started by bringing back a squadron of T-28C/D’s. Since they are flying Helos and trainers they must have some basic skills

  6. My late Mother-in-law used to say – You can't make Chicken Salad out of Chickensh#t.

    A viable air force may be out of the Afghans reach at this point in time.

  7. I'm confused….don't we have the "sequester" going on, we are busy closing down air traffic control towers and stoping White House Tours….who is paying to further arm this group of Muslims?

  8. Main fact is that they the Afghans should be buying them NOT the US. 2 may have been cheaper to buy them some old MiG-17s at a fraction of the cost and add bomb pylons for it. They used in the 80s. Any way this buying for a failing state is dragging our military down time to stop it and make afghans buy there own weapons.

  9. Robert Branch | April 24, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Reply

    I like Vince McCall's comment…it is true to life.

  10. Robert Branch | April 24, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Reply

    Sorry, Vaughn McCall's comment.

  11. The Air Tigers of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka used to take cheap training aircraft and add makeshift bomb racks to them. They were very effective even against the more modern Sri Lankan military. If push comes to shove, couldn't the Afghans do that?

  12. You all don't give the Afghan personnel and leadership enough credit. They are more than capable of fielding, maintaining and employing a low-to-medium tech air to ground capability. Maybe if OUR priorities weren't on getting contractors and their investors wealthy, they would be already well established in this area…nonetheless, they can and will succeed at this. We haven't wasted 12+ years of our effort and treasure for nothing. There are very good people over there…among us and the Afghans. Give them some credit.

  13. I don't understand anything!!!!!! I'm just an Idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. I didn't know these folks could fly anything……..Oh , well!

  15. Dear Friends .
    I don't now what you media say about Afghanistan but the fact is that we are quick learner and capable of any hard working that you gays don't even imagine or dreamed of .
    we don't big anyone for giving us air sport such F -35 or etc, you gays started the war so its is your job to finished it .
    Regards .

  16. Hopefully the Taliban will be able to harvest enough poppies in the future to pay for the maintenance of their Aircraft after 2015. I hate to see the US taxpayers money go to waste.

  17. The soviet Union when they were in Afghanistan for 10 years they have managed to trained and build Afghan air forces with over 900 aircrafts but today NATO is bulshating they do not want to build the Afghan Airforce because they they want a reason to stay in Afghanistan for saying they they would provide close air support, the NATO is bringing many excuses but i think Afghanistan should become friend back with Russia rather than NATO becuase NATO lies and NATO is not a true ally of Afghanistan and they would never be so Afghanistan government must establish links with Russia and kick out NATO from Afghanistan.

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