Air Transportation: Grounded For Greed In Afghanistan

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August 13, 2013: The U.S. is hustling to get Afghanistan four second-hand C-130H transports (and possibly more) to replace the 20 C-27A transports the Afghans had but could not support. The C-130H is the most common version is the C-130. It has a range of 8,368 kilometers, a top speed of 601 kilometers per hour, and can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. Apparently the U.S. feels it will be easier, and possible, to keep a smaller number of C-130Hs operational, especially if American aid officials take more control over maintenance funds. The Afghan pilot shortage is bad, but not so bad they cannot muster crews for fewer C-130Hs. If this works more C-130Hs can be added as conditions permit.

Late last year Afghanistan announced that it would cancel the contract to buy and use 20 C-27A transports. The official reason was the inability of the Italian maintenance firm to keep the aircraft operational. The unofficial reason is the unwillingness of the Italians to pay as much in bribes as the Afghan officials were demanding. Over half a billion dollars was being spent on buying and operating these aircraft and all the money was coming from the United States. Afghan government and air force officials were determined to grab as much of that cash as possible. That meant there was not enough money for the spare parts and tools needed to keep the C-27As flying. The Afghans can be self-destructive in so many ways, and letting these transports get away because not enough could be stolen from the contracts was another example.

The Afghan Air Corps was supposed to get 20 C-27A transports, but only 16 had been delivered when the contract was cancelled. These Italian made aircraft are easy to fly and very popular with their Afghan pilots, as well as several other nations that use them. Able to carry up to ten tons of cargo, the C-27As gave the Afghan military a more reliable (than older Russian An-32s) and flexible air transport capability. For example, the C-27A can fly as slow as 160 kilometers an hour, with the cargo door open, to drop cargo by parachute. Until 2015, Afghanistan can depend on NATO transports, but after that they will be on their own. To deal with that Afghanistan was going to buy some An-32s from Ukraine, but that didn’t work out either and five of these aircraft are still around but unfit to operate.

The C-27As were obtained for Afghanistan by the U.S., from the Italian Air Force, for $16 million each. The C-27A is a two engine medium range transport, designed to fly into small airfields at high altitudes. This 28 ton aircraft usually carries six tons (or 34 passengers) for up to 2,500 kilometers and lands on smaller airfields than the C-130 can handle. The U.S. Air Force bought ten C-27As in the 1990s, but took them out of service because it was cheaper to fly stuff in the larger C-130. At least until the air force had to operate in Afghanistan.

Two of the Afghan C-27As were outfitted as VIP transports, for the Afghan president and other senior officials. That indicates how safe and reliable the Afghans considered their new, although second-hand, transports. Afghanistan also has six Russian An-32s. These twin engine transports are actually a modernized and more recent version of the Russian An-24 transport. The original design is from the early 1960s. The An-32 can carry 6 tons of cargo or up to 50 passengers. Max speed is 540 kilometers an hour and range is 2,500 kilometers. The crew consists of two pilots and a loadmaster. The An-32 is still in production (361 have been built since 1976) and it is used by air forces in India, Bangladesh, and Ukraine. Parts are easier to get than for the C-27A and maintenance is simpler. But the corruption and personnel shortages in Afghanistan made even the An-32s too much to handle.

 

 


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