Afghanistan began receiving the first eight (of twenty) A-29 trainer/attack aircraft in January. Afghan pilots have flown nearly 300 sorties in these A-29s so far this year, mostly for training and reconnaissance. The first attack sortie was carried out April 14th (up north in Badakhshan). At about the same time Afghan pilots and maintainers managed to fly 83 A-29 sorties in 24 hours. This was an important achievement for the maintainers, who have to be pretty good to “surge” and carry out that many sorties in one day. All twenty A-29s are to arrive by 2018. The first eight Afghan pilots completed their training (in the United States) in late 2015 and additional A-29 pilot training is taking place in Afghanistan now that A-29s have arrived.
The A-29 Super Tucano 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. A 20mm autocannon is carried under the fuselage along with about a 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 122 kg (268 pound) SDB GPS guided 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 making it more effective for ground support. 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 about $20 million for each Afghan 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.
In 2014 the U.S. agreed to provide Afghanistan with 62 more armed helicopters as well as the A-29s, 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.