The Afghan Air Force has been aided by the US trainings and massive US aids. Now with the US troops imminent complete withdrawal from this country, problems for the Afghan Air Force have started to emerge.
In the Afghan Air Force fleet, where C-130 aircrafts are being used for transportation, there are also fixed wing, light attack Super Toucan aircrafts. In the helicopter sector, aircrafts such as the Black Hawk and MD530 series have been delivered for transportation, reconnaissance, or attack missions.
Beside these western platforms, the Afghanistan Air Force also owns Russian helicopters of Mi 17 and Mi 24 series, the former for transportation and the latter for attack.
The main problem begins when almost the entire western Fleet of the Afghan Air Force needs American contractors for maintenance. Currently, there are about 18000 contractors in Afghanistan, most of whom are responsible for the maintenance and support of the Afghan army’s hardware fleet.
Challenges after Withdrawal
Here are a few points to be pondered: Firstly, Afghan Air Force personnel are almost self-sufficient in the maintenance of Russian platforms, including Mi 17 helicopter series. In 2014, however, following the outbreak of the Eastern Ukraine conflicts, the United States cut off financial supports for a plan to purchase and maintain Mi-17 helicopters from Russia for the Afghan army. Washington announced that it will provide American Black Hawk helicopters series to the Afghan army instead.
The Afghan Air Force have received about 90 MI-17 helicopters from Russia and still use part of this fleet to a great extent, relying on domestic capabilities. These helicopters have been very successful in providing supplies to remote areas and evacuating imjured Afghan soldiers. Yet, the experiences of the Russian side, gained from the war in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union times, have been effective in developing this helicopter’s capabilities for places like Afghanistan.
Black Hawk helicopters may be somewhat more technologically advanced than Russian models, but they are much more expensive and require a large amount of specialized maintenance to stay operational. At the moment, less than 20 Black Hawk helicopters have been delivered to the Afghan Air Force. After the recent Afghan officials’ visit to the United States, it has been announced that 37 more helicopters of this model are supposed to be delivered to this country.
Under the US agreement with Taliban, American and western contractors are also leaving the country; this is very bad news for Afghanistan Air Force. Without the western technical contractors’ support, Afghan Air Force fleet and western helicopters can ultimately survive for 6 months and they will be grounded immediately after.
Currently, knowing that the US must eventually withdraw from Afghanistan, the United States continues to use foreign personnel to repair and maintain Afghan helicopters and aircrafts, and with their departure, the Afghan Air Forcewill be practically deprived from one of its most important assets (resources).
About MD 530 attack helicopters, the big problem is that first of all these helicopters are equipped only with rocket launchers and machine guns, with no long-range guided anti-tank missiles. At the same time, these helicopters will encounter lots of problems in the mountainous parts of the country.
Afghanistan is mainly a mountainous country and being at high altitudes is vital for its army and fleet, but MD 530 helicopter series, which are naturally light aircrafts, are not able to reach the required heights in the mountains of this country in many cases. If in some cases they are able to do so, because of not having long-range weapons, they are forced to approach the targets and are exposed to reciprocal fire.
In spite of the fact that Super Tucano light aircrafts are suitable for Afghanistan conditions, they will be decommissioned immediately after technicians’ departure due to their dependence on technical support and the presence of specialized repair forces. Losing this important element, it will be much difficult for the Afghan army to operate on the ground.
The unstable condition of Afghan Air Force shows the United States has not sought to create an independent and powerful force in this sector.