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Afghan Air Corps Ramping Up Capabilities

WASHINGTON --- The Afghan National Army’s air corps is critical to NATO’s mission to grow and empower security forces in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and other insurgents, a top U.S. officer posted in Kabul said today.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael R. Boera discussed how NATO forces are helping the Afghan government to expand and refine the country’s air power capabilities during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable. Boera commands the Combined Air Power Transition Force for NATO Training Mission Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, as well as the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing in Kabul.

The overarching theme in the air power transition force’s operations is developing institutions and a culture of training within the Afghan air corps, thereby creating enduring processes that will make air power organizations self-sustaining, the general said. The issue of command and control is central to creating that culture and having a flexible, capable air force for Afghanistan, he added.

“We must make [command] structures appropriate for Afghanistan and sustainable by the Afghans as they will inherit sole responsibility for any devised structure when the coalition departs,” Boera said. “It’s no good to create a [command and control] structure that they cannot or will not sustain.”

Having a well-trained, capable aerial wing of the Afghan army will help to provide a better blanket of coverage for the country, Boera said, noting that the road system in Afghanistan is limited, leaving a lot of open, wilderness areas.

“Air power provides capabilities that enable all of Afghanistan security forces to operate with greater efficiency,” he said. “For this reason, the air corps will see a corresponding increase in size and [the NATO allies] will be called to facilitate this growth.”

The general added that because of Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, the condition of its roads and the constant threat of roadside-bomb attacks, it rarely makes sense to send ground forces into the mountains to root out insurgents.

“There are many areas you simply cannot go without a Mi-17 helicopter -- or a donkey,” he said.

Boera said developing the Afghan air corps has been a learning process, largely because of differing cultures. The patience of the Afghan people, he said, is “staggering” compared to an American standard. While Americans generally want a quick, high-tech solution to a problem, he explained, the Afghan reaction would err on the side of moderation and endurance. A simple, long-term solution will work better than something that seems satisfactory in the short-term, he said.

“A modest capability, built with patience, is the most effective way to leave Afghanistan with an enduring capability,” Boera said.

The Afghan air corps uses fixed-wing AN-32 Airlifters and C-27 Spartans, as well as Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters. The C-27 is a new addition -- the first sortie with that aircraft was flown today – but Boera said it will become the “backbone” of Afghan air operations.

The C-27s are similar in operation to the AN-32, so Afghan pilots are comfortable flying them, Boera said. They’re built strong and have recently been fully refurbished, he added, making them set to last a while, even under harsh conditions.

“In building up capability to employ these airframes, [we] are pursuing ends that will be sustainable well after we leave,” Boera said.

Expanding the corps’ inventory of aircraft, recruiting pilots and technicians to staff the air corps, building airfields and other air corps infrastructure across Afghanistan, and establishment and execution of operations to support and further its mission are the four areas of focus, the general said.

As NATO works to build the air corps, its airmen are flying alongside Afghan pilots, training them for future autonomous operations. As new equipment is brought in, new training is given, and as new circumstances arise, the training adapts.

“I like to say we are literally flying the airplane while we build it,” Boera said.

Afghan Air Corps Vital to Country’s Security