KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --- Six Afghan Air Force members became the first-ever AAF UH-60 Black Hawk pilots, after graduation from Aircraft Qualification Training during a ceremony at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 20, 2017.
Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air advisors and Afghan Air Force leaders were in attendance to congratulate the pilots during this historic ceremony.
“I am happily announcing that today a new page is opening in Afghanistan Air Force life,” said Maj. Gen. Abdul Raziq Sherzai, Kandahar Air Wing commander. “In the past years, due to civil wars, our Air force capabilities reached to almost zero. Today we can see, that we are not far from standing on our own feet.”
This endeavor is part of a larger modernization program. The Afghan Air Force will more than double their fleet of aircraft over the next seven years. Plans include the introduction of AC-208 attack aircraft and UH-60 Black Hawk assault helicopters, along with additional A-29 attack aircraft and MD-530 attack helicopters.
The first AAF Black Hawk pilots are experienced aviators coming from a Mi-17 background, making the transition from one rotary wing aircraft to another virtually seamless. The six graduates volunteered to be the first to make the shift.
“Today I'm very excited that it is my graduation day,” said AAF Capt. Jamshid Rezaye. “I cannot express my feeling right now, because I get to serve the Afghan people.”
For future Black Hawk pilots, the UH-60 flight training is approximately 16 weeks long, six weeks for Aircraft Qualification Training and 10 weeks for Mission Qualification Training.
The AAF is expecting to have four qualified crews by fighting season 2018, and 32 crews by fighting season 2019.
Fourteen UH-60 pilots will train at Fort Rucker, Ala., in 2018 with an additional 21 in 2019, and 25 in following years.
Individuals are selected for pilot training based on their qualifications and position vacancies. The two main individual qualifications include flight physicals and English language ability.
The transition of airframe for the AAF pilots will provide firepower and mobility, significant offensive factors enabling the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to break the stalemate against insurgents.
Advisors from TAAC-Air will work with contract support to oversee continuation training in country. TAAC-Air leverages train, advise and assist activities in concert with strong personal relationships, to create professional Afghan Airmen capable of planning, leading, employing and sustaining decisive airpower operations.
“As TAAC-Air we look for three things: capable, sustainable and professional. The Mi-17 is no longer sustainable as it is becoming obsolete,” said Lt. Col. Trenton Alexander, 441st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander. “The UH-60 is sustainable, [allowing] us to meet our three tiers of capable, sustainable, and professional.”
AAF modernization is essential for increasing AAF competence, instruction and education with merit-based advancement of its best leaders. Modernization of the Afghan Air Force will mitigate gaps in Afghan aerial fires and lift capabilities.
Once Afghan pilots graduate and become mission ready, all combat missions will be flown and led by Afghans. Coalition members are not involved in Afghan combat missions, which was not the case a year ago, but today the Afghans do it on their own, according to advisors.
“I congratulate my young and patriotic pilots for this success and completion of their course,” Sherzai said. “I’m expecting these young pilots to use these modern and new helicopters, fighting bravely and strongly against the enemy and against terrorists.”