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 Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.
  • USS ENTERPRISE

    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?

    • blight_

      Zuni rockets and 70mm dumbfire will do the trick, as long as the enemy doesn’t have MANPADS. Some Strelas from Pakistan will really mess things up.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        Thanks. Though, I would imagine that a well aimed RPG-7 could take a Tucano down. My confidence with the Afganis was never high, but giving them light aircraft to chuck at the Taliban could end badly.

        • blight_

          More accurately in terms of weapons:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embraer_EMB_314_Supe

          Rockets:
          (4x) pods 70 mm (2.75 in) LM-70/19(SBAT-70)
          (4x) pods 70 mm (2.75 in) LAU-68A/G
          Missiles:
          Air-to-air:
          AIM-9L Sidewinder
          MAA-1A Piranha
          MAA-1B Piranha (under development)
          Python 3
          Python 4
          Air-to-ground:
          AGM-65 Maverick
          Bombs:
          General-purpose bombs:
          (10x) Mk 81
          (5x) Mk 82
          M-117
          Incendiary bombs:
          BINC-300
          Cluster bombs:
          BLG-252
          Precision-guided bombs:
          SMKB-82 (under development)– Mectron/Britanite INS/GPS guidance kit for Mk 82.
          GBU-54 (under development)
          GBU-38 (under development)
          GBU-39 (under development)
          Paveway II
          Lizard – Elbit laser guidance kit.
          Griffin – IAI laser guidance kit.
          (If it supports Mk 82’s it’ll probably do the JDAM version too. And on paper you could mount SDBs, but it would require engineering the mountings.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Very odd things happening here. The font on the site has changed on me twice; a second ago there was no down or up voting. Anyways, I am slightly concerned about the cluster bombs. Supposing the Afghanis buy them, would they have the capability to use them?

          • USS ENTERPRISE
          • USS ENTERPRISE
          • scott

            thats a big pile of hoopla you are an idiot and dont know crap about this stuff

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Thanks. Try arguing with facts.

          • Hoopla

            You bet your pants

          • blight_

            My Brazilian-made-pants-made-in-partnership-with-an-American-company-to-qualify-as-made-in-USA pants, I assume?

    • Tiger
    • Mike

      The Russians had no problem building a large Afghan Airforce. Yet for some reason ( politics ? ) the US does not seem to be able to get this done. Very embarrassing and a looming military disaster. Heads should roll.

  • USS ENTERPRISE

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

    • hoopla

      Your a terrrible person and dont understand anything

  • 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.

      • majr0d

        Fixed wing is a more efficient platform for CAS (payload, speed, endurance, range).

        The Super Tuc is an outstanding plane. The AT6B Texan can do the same job and has almost identical performance characteristics/capabilities across the board for 40% less cost.

        The Air Force keeps picking the Super Tuc, a plane we’re going to give away in the end. NOT smart and a repeated mistake. Hmmmm?

        • USS ENTERPRISE

          Well than, clearly, we should get/give the Texan.

          • Brad

            Majr0d. I doubt they are capable of long term maitanence. And yes, the air force/ state dept are more than capable of repeated mistakes. Just look at the air forces of similarly resourced countries, somalia, uganda, etc. You get the point….it would be great for the first few weeks untill something breaks, and then it will sit in the junk yard getting eaten away by rust.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Why don’t we just don’t give them anything to begin with. If they want to buy something, take it into consideration. Job done.

          • tiger

            Please, don’t make policy worse…….

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Anything we do to you policy will make it better.

            /sarc

          • WRG01

            Tucano is superior to the AT6 in every category and will be manufactured in Florida. The data comparison and quantifiable support from real-world combat use clearly indicates that the Tucano is the appropriate aircraft for this mission. http://www.military.com/daily-news/2013/04/17/lig

          • majr0d

            “Tucano is superior to the AT6 in every category”. No, just in price.

            My comments in that article you posted clarify the point.

        • johnvarry

          Sorry in this case I think the Super Tucano is a better aircraft. Super Tucano has almost same cruise speed and max speed. Super Tucano is slighly larger than the Texan II yet weighs more empty than Texan II’s max weight and still has a stall speed 5mph slower than Texan II. Both have FLIR turrets. Deal maker for me is Super Tucano’s ability to carry 2 x 12.7mm HMG’s inside wings not tying up any hardpoints.

          • majr0d

            The AT6B’s .50 cal pods carry more ammo and being smaller is a good thing when you are getting shot at not to mention all for FORTY percent LESS cost.

            You can almost buy TWO AT6B’s for ONE Super Tuc but let’s not forget that 5mph less stall speed! I think your priorities are off a bit.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Agree with majr0d on this one. The numbers and dollars don’t lie.

          • blight_

            Money is going to define procurement decisions for some time. Or at least, it’s supposed to.

            In the old days we would’ve dug out old aircraft and given them to Afghanistan: the fact that we have no attack fixed-wing turboprops appears to be a product of our thinking.

          • majr0d

            very true

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Sounds pretty accurate for right now.

          • tiger

            So great, they have no other buyers?

        • tiger

          Sorry, but the better plane is already here. This just is Beechcraft sour grapes & Lobbists.

          • blight_

            Bear in mind Super Tucano is an evolution of the earlier Tucano; and more likely than not the Texan II is more in line with the Tucano.

            That said, Tucanos are already here. No AT-6 Texans exist, and we’d be paying for Beechcraft to bring the capability online and get mass production started. But the Afghans need aircraft sooner rather than later. 2015 is a bit late to get them, the war could well be over by then. Tucano won in 2011 with expected field date of 2013. They won again in 2013, with expected field date in 2015.

          • majr0d

            The AT6B is from the Texan II a derivative of the Pilatus PC-9 from the early 80’s. No connection to the Tucano unless the Brazilians copied the PC-9. FYI, the AT6 is already in the system, flown and maintained by the Air Force (another factor that would drive down cost and deployment times).

            Bringing the AT6B online is not anymore difficult than building a new factory in the US to assemble Super Tucanos made in Brazil. The Super Tuc wins are intersting. Even more so if you delve into why they won. The Texan II was eliminatedfrom the first competition because they were given the wrong address to submit paperwork that arrived a day late, the second had improprieties that were criminally investigated. A case hasn’t been made by the Air Force on why the Super Tuc is the better plane. Those three coincidences would cause a critical thinker to pause.

          • blight_

            That’s probably the two year delay. Sadly, the Afghans needed these aircraft sooner rather than later.

            The Super Tucano is a scaled up Tucano. The AT-6B is by extension derived from the T-6B in an analogous fashion.

            That said, the AT6B doesn’t exist in a form beyond the demonstrator. If both aircraft were equal, the next question is if it’s faster to retool production lines geared to deliver T-6’s for AT-6’s, vs paying Sierra Nevada Corp to set up production lines for a design already in production elsewhere. If Sierra Nevada can simply assemble kits from Embraer it’ll go faster, but it may not meet the Made in USA requirement. Which means Sierra Nevada has to find local suppliers for everything, which complicates things.

            I’m aware of the first round ending badly because of the paperwork snafu, but wasn’t aware of the full extent of improprieties for the second.

            The Afghans may as well buy both and sort it out later, like we’re doing with LCS.

          • majr0d

            Is cost not a factor?

          • blight_

            I wish it was. It’ll probably be the compromise they settle on, similar to how they couldn’t agree on the Freedom or the Independence class LCS.

      • blight_

        Hello to you too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • blight_

          Hello!

  • 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…

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        I would suppose all those old Afghan pilots are in some jail in Russia, or something. I don’t know how well Iraqi pilots will fare in Afghanistan.

      • Jerry Waller

        They need to start with middle school aged kids, and basic curriculum to learn to read and speak english, and a cadet program modeled on Civil Air Patrol. Set up a school in Arizona for 500 lucky Afgan kids. These kids will be the next generation of Air Force in AFG and possibly the next real leaders of the country. Any contractors interested?

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      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

        • blight_

          The wikipedia article on the RLAF is probably a sobering foreshadowing of what’ll happen with the Afghan Air Force. I can be optimistic, but…
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Lao_Air_Force

          “The first three AC-47 Spooky gunships were received from the U. S. and Vietnamese Air Forces, and the first missions flown on 5 September. There were teething problems–air crews were expected to fly C-47s by day as well as AC-47s at night; gunners burned out guns; munitions were fired just for resale value of the brass; Vang Pao was initially reluctant to employ them for fear of friendly casualties. The experience of the pilots helped though; for instance, Captain Khamphanh (of the air-to-air victory) had logged over 7,000 flying hours. Nevertheless, the three Spookies soon proved their worth and began averaging about 50 nocturnal combat sorties per month.”

          “Another weak point, never really solved, was the dearth of qualified Lao maintenance and logistics personnel. An attempt to solve the shortage was made when all the RLAF T-28s were released from U. S. control to the RLAF, with an expanded training program being run.”

          To say the least, what a mess.

  • 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.

  • 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.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        Ha, if we just thought other countries didn’t exist, then a whole lot of messy stuff would start happening.

    • 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.

    • tiger

      Lance…………. This a failing state if we let it fail. Turning our backs after the Russians left is how we got here. Ask Joe Wilson.

    • Papi1960R

      Lance, you are right. If we let it fail? WTF are we going to be staying there? Only if the ancient warriors have their way. No business there after Al-Qaeda was route on the ground. Time to cut the umbilical chord and watch the Taliban take over in 6-8 months, maybe quicker. The US must institute a policy of only SELLING arms to those who pay full price. No exceptions. Hell, there is a line of 60+ A-37 Dragonflies sitting along Kolb road in Tucson just waiting for someone to BUY them. Nothing for free ever again.

  • Robert Branch

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

    • blight_

      He’s probably the only one on this thread who understands the difficulty of bootstrapping an air force in a low tech country first-hand, instead of on armchair/research/theoretical principles. Short of people with direct experience with the Afghan Air Force.

  • 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?

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      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!

    • tiger

      Typical response of a American to the rest of the world. In 1940……..
      Wake up.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        The Japanese and Germans were pretty good aviators, that is until they lost them.

  • 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 .

    • blight_

      Unless you’re a Tajik from the Panjshir Valley: in which case, the Pashtuns started it, and we’re helping the Tajiks finish it.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Okay. Firstly, a lot of the un-stabilized bits of your country were from Russia’s involvement in their Afghan War. Next, we aren’t putting you guys down; but you have to realize that becoming the next fighter ace requires training.

      • Jawid

        and we are ready for that .

  • 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.

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