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.”

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for He can be reached at

    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?


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

  • Brad

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

    • johnvarry

      Helos are slower and more vulnerable. Super Tucano is faster and more agile plus can carry weaponry while carrying targeting gear like a built in FLIR turret with laser designator and Electronics for self defense. Super Tucano is IMHO pretty comparable to a WW2 close air support prop fighter like a Hurricane or P-40. Slower and cant carry as much as a Typhoon or P-47.

  • Stephen

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

    • blight_

      When they start asking exclusively for Pilatus Porters…

  • Vaughn McCall

    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

    • blight_

      Indeed, we’re busy focusing on pilots, but they need good maintainers and adequate supplies or all bets are off.

      I wonder if we could poach some ex-Iraqi AF guys to help us train Afghans. Then again, a working knowledge of Arabic doesn’t necessarily translate in the Pashtun hinterlands, where Arabic is for the Qu’ran and everyone does Pashto, and maybe Farsi.

      I wonder if we could find the old Afghan Air Force guys from the Soviet era. They’d probably be on the long-in-the-tooth side, though…


      Maybe we can throw in a few hundred kits of “Rosetta Stone” with these aircraft.

    • blight_

      How did training in Laos go? Was it Royal Lao Army or Other-Government-Agency Hmong? The latter might be more comparable to what we have to deal with in Afghanistan.

      • Vaughn McCall

        Royal Lao AF, T-28’s

  • Musson

    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.

    • blight_

      Define viable. They’d certainly be light years behind the Pakistanis and the Iranians, but they really need a CAS/COIN air force more than anything. I am definitely worried that they will be unable to really maintain their aircraft; short of a few dedicated Tajiks who worked McGyver miracles for the Northern Alliance in the ’90s.


        Yeah, the Afghanis will have trouble in keeping their aircraft in working condition, and keeping their aircraft out of illegal activity. They are going to need guidance for at least a few years, which will probably be afforded by the USAF.

    • Hoopla

      Like for real thats the best saying i have heard in 18 years it is also the best logic i have heard yet

  • Tom

    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?

    • blight_

      Indeed, if we had armed “those [Tajik, Hazara] Muslims” we probably would have had better people in charge of Afghanistan. Instead, Hekmatyar and the Pakistanis turned Afghanistan into a charnel house, and led to the Taliban.

      Of course, it’s always easier to pretend foreign countries don’t exist until they turn into trouble for us.

    • Samsoor

      becouse afghan says they are not our friend and please go back to your country we knows that where to buy heavey weapons, yes moscow is ok than yours

  • Lance

    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.

  • Robert Branch

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

  • Robert Branch

    Sorry, Vaughn McCall’s comment.

  • Ripberger

    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?


      Depends if they have things to hang off those racks.

    • tiger

      You do not base a Air force on the A-team meets MacGuyver.

  • WRG01

    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.

    • blight_

      The Northern alliance did a lot better than anyone expected. But the Pashtuns are the majority, and are going to be the basis of the army that fights the Pashtun insurgency.

  • Hoopla

    I don’t understand anything!!!!!! I’m just an Idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • lane

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

  • Jawid

    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 .

  • Papi1960R

    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.

  • Aj

    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.

  • Renting a cabin in the woods is nice for the summer; buying one
    that you only use two weeks out of the year is not. The
    fierce competitive scenario has paved the way for faster,
    efficient and more innovative solutions to woo the customers.
    There are many services of relocation provided by
    packing and moving companies in which workers are quite expert.
    After his return to Paris in 1899, Aragon came into contact with Georges Melies and immediately offered to work in his workshop hand-colored films.
    Due to safety reasons, many business individuals still prefer Sea
    Freight Forwarder with the belief that the sea transport or ocean freight is the
    best mode of transportation. The type that you choose will
    vary in the amount of work that is required and the total cost to build.
    There are many such companies that are engaged with auto wraps, billboards, truck wraps, vehicle wraps, etc.

    The musicians will play and each of the instruments or voices will be recorded to a discrete track of it’s own. Use cold
    water, a wash cloth, a gentle non-perfumed soap or a neutral p – H detergent.
    Make sure that the pricing is strictly determined
    in the contract you sign so that you do not end up paying more than you have expected.