photo - DoD
By Warrior Maven Global Security
Firing machine guns at Taliban fighters, reinforcing attacking ground troops and scouting through mountainous terrain to find enemy locations are all things US-trained Afghan Air Force pilots are now doing with US Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
The ongoing US effort to provide anti-Taliban Afghan fighters with Black Hawks has recently been accelerated to add more aircraft on a faster timeframe, as part of a broad strategic aim to better enable Afghan forces to attack.
The first refurbished A-model Black Hawks, among the oldest in the US inventory, arrived in Kandahar in September of last year, as an initial step toward the ultimate goal of providing 159 of the helicopters to the Afghans, industry officials say.
While less equipped than the US Army’s most modern M-model Black Hawks, the older analogue A-models are currently being recapitalized and prepared for hand over to the Afghans.
Many of the Afghan pilots, now being trained by a globally-focused, US-based aerospace firm called MAG, have been flying Russian-built Mi-17s. Now, MAG is helping some Afghan pilots transition to Black Hawks as well as training new pilots for the Afghan Air Force.
“We are working on a lot of mission types. We’re helping pilots learn to fly individually, conduct air assaults and fly in conjunction with several other aircraft,” Brian Tachias, Senior Vice President for MAG, Huntsville Business Unit, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
The current MAG deal falls under the US Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization. Tachias said, “A team of roughly 20 MAG trainers has already flown over 500 hours with Afghan trainees.” MAG trainers, on-the-ground in Kandahar, graduated a class of Afghan trainees this month. According to current plans, Black Hawks will have replaced all Mi-17s by 2022.
Tachias added that teaching Afghan pilots to fly with night vision goggles has been a key area of emphasis in the training to prepare them for combat scenarios where visibility is more challenging. By next year, MAG intends to use UH-60 simulators to support the training.
While not armed with heavy weapons or equipped with advanced sensors, the refurbished A-model Black Hawks are outfitted with new engines and crew-served weapons. The idea is to give Afghan forces combat maneuverability, air superiority and a crucial ability to reinforce offensive operations in mountainous terrain, at high altitudes.
The MAG training effort is consistent with a broader Army strategy to arm, train and equip Afghan forces such that they can continue to take over combat missions. In recent years, the US Army has placed a premium on operating in a supportive role wherein they train, assist and support Afghan fighters who themselves engage in combat, conduct patrols and do the majority of the fighting.
Standing up an Afghan Air Force has been a longstanding stated Army goal for a variety of key reasons, one of which simply being that the existence of a capable Afghan air threat can not only advance war aims and enable the US to pull back some of its assets from engaging in direct combat.
While acknowledging the complexities and challenges on continued war in Afghanistan, US Centcom Commander Gen. Joseph Votel voiced this sensibility earlier this summer, stating that Afghan forces are increasingly launching offensive attacks against the Taliban.
"They are fighting and they are taking casualties, but they are also very offensive-minded, inflicting losses on the Taliban and [ISIS-Khorasan] daily, while expanding their capabilities and proficiency every day," Votel said, according to an Army report from earlier this summer.
Providing Black Hawks and training in support of various foreign allied efforts does have precedent. In recent years, Colombian police and military have been attacking the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. A story from the Washington Post last year cites several instances of Colombian authorities attacking FARC locations with US provided Black Hawk pilots.
The Washington Post writes:
"In January 2011, Colombian anti-narcotics police officers rappelled from a helicopter to blow up a FARC lab for processing cocaine in the municipality of Puerto Concordia. In Operation “Republic 73,” the squads destroyed 17 laboratories for processing coca base; seized 692 kilos of cocaine base, 13 tons of chemicals, 29 tons of precursor chemicals, 22 boats and two aircraft; and arrested 10 people."
Similar to Afghanistan, Colombian pilots were trained by US-based contractors - Dyncorp & Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions.