Attrition: Repo Man Comes After The Taliban

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December 10, 2021: In mid-November three Mi-17 transport helicopters of the former, before the August Taliban takeover, Afghan Air force were flown from Uzbekistan to the United States. About a third of the flyable Afghan Air Force aircraft fled or defected in mid-August as the Taliban declared they controlled the entire country. While the Afghan Air Force had about 240 aircraft and helicopters, only about 150 were flyable in mid-August because of maintenance problems.

In late August commercial satellite photos showed nearly fifty Afghan military aircraft in Uzbekistan at a military airbase. These aircraft originally landed at an airport 15 kilometers from the Afghan border. A week later satellite photos showed that about a third of the Afghan aircraft earlier seen in Uzbekistan were now at a military airbase in neighboring Tajikistan. The defecting aircraft brought a lot of civilians with them, apparently the families of the pilots and maintenance personnel for the aircraft. On August 30 the last American troops departed the Kabul airport a day ahead of the Taliban deadline. U.S. troops disabled all American military equipment left behind, including over a dozen transports and helicopters.

It is believed that several Afghan Air Force UH-60 transport helicopters are also being returned to the United States, as well as at least one A-29 trainer/bomber plus Cessna 208 and PC-12 transports. All Afghan Air force aircraft were bought with American aid and some remained U.S. property even though they were in Afghan service. The Americans apparently ordered the repo (repossession) team to go after any of those aircraft that made it out of the country recently and in the future. This may eventually consist of dozens of aircraft. Whatever the repo operation gets back will be inspected and restored to service or resale after a visit to a special air force facility for retired or retrieved but flyable aircraft.

In the United States retired or retrieved aircraft are usually sent to AMARC (Aerospace Maintenance and Recovery Center) “bone yard”, an air force storage site out in the Arizona desert. Since World War II most military aircraft ended up being retired intact, and eventually scrapped, not shot down or otherwise destroyed in combat. Some nations, particularly the United States, have an intermediate status - storage. Since 1965 the main such storage and recycling site in the United States has been AMARC. Aircraft stored at AMARC would, if armed and operational, be the third largest air force in the world. This facility, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, stores nearly 5,000 military aircraft no longer needed for active service. Every year some are recalled, refurbished, and sent back to work.

Most of the AMARC aircraft are "harvested" for spare parts, until what's left is chopped up and sold for scrap. A growing number of aircraft are becoming too old, or missing too many parts to be revived and are eligible for scrapping. For example, in 2012 the AMARC auctioned off 12,000 tons of retired F-111, C-5, F-15, C-130, S-3, and A-4 aircraft for scrap. Currently AMARC earns over half a billion dollars a year from harvesting reusable spare parts, scrapped aircraft, and sale of revived aircraft to foreign customers. After ten or twenty years in AMARC aircraft are likely to be scrapped. But before that happens a growing number of new or former users come looking for bargains that are another profit center for the boneyard.

The 150 Afghans, mostly civilians, who flew out in these aircraft were eventually flown out to the UAE (United Arab Emirates) where they are being processed (questioned) before being allowed into the United States.

 


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