Forces: The Afghan Air Force Steps Up


February 25, 2009: Seven years ago, as the post-Taliban Afghan government began planning their new armed forces, it was believed that the air force would probably consist of a few dozen transports and armed trainer aircraft, plus a few dozen transport helicopters (some of then armed). Russia would be a likely donor (or seller, at attractive prices) of the equipment as the Afghans have been using Russian air force equipment for more than 30 years. Eventually, Afghanistan would want jet fighters, but foreign aid donors would resist spending any money on these. Russia could donate some older combat aircraft (currently in storage and wasting away anyway), but even the Afghan government would probably prefer to use the native pilots they have for transports and helicopters, which would be of more use in the next few years.

The original plan has been working out. The Afghan Air Force (officially the ANAAC, or Afghan National Army Air Corps) will, by 2015, have 7,400 troops and 127 aircraft. These will include 61 helicopters (Mi-17 transports and nine Mi-35 gunships), 28 transports (20 G.222s, 6 AN-32s and 2 AN-26s). The remaining aircraft are single engine trainers, some of them used for ground attack. The air force has a pilot training program, which has produced 301 graduate so far, and currently has 46 men undergoing training overseas and in Afghanistan. The G.222s will begin deliveries this year. About half the helicopters are already in service, as well as the An-32s and An-26s.

Currently, the Afghan air force is flying 90 percent of the missions required by the Afghan armed forces. That amounts to about 260 sorties a month, moving 3,800 passengers and about 35 tons of cargo. There are also about 32 medevac missions a month. This is a huge jump since early 2007, when there were only 20 active aircraft and about 4,000 personnel. The Afghans still have a lot of work to do in recruiting and training Afghans to do all the maintenance work, but they have demonstrated that they can make what they have, work.  


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