Afghan Air Force maintainers conduct checks on an MD-530 attack helicopter. AAF maintainers are, and will continue to be, instrumental in the success of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
KABUL, Afghanistan (March 9, 2018) – The moment the MD-530 attack helicopter landed on the parking ramp, a maintainer with the Afghan Air Force ran out to check on the aircraft. While AAF pilots often get the glory, they would not be able to fly without the workers on the ground that keep the aircraft up and running.
Currently, Afghan Air Force maintainers are training and working diligently to develop the capabilities which will allow them to take over full responsibility for their fleets of aircraft.
"Already their ability has increased, and having this sustainability will allow the Afghan Air Force to be even stronger come fighting season,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gerard Carisio, commander, 440th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron.
Building an air force doesn’t happen overnight, but Afghan maintainers are, and will continue to be, instrumental in the success of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
The rebuilding of the AAF started in 2010 with the arrival of the C-208 light transport aircraft. The fleet has since grown to include seven different types of aircraft, and it has been less than three years since the AAF gained the ability to conduct its own airstrikes. Strikes with the MD-530 started in August 2015; the A-29 followed in April 2016.
"It is a rare opportunity to get to train and develop a brand new air force, essentially, so these things take time, there are hurdles, but we will come out in front,” said Australian Air Force Sergeant David Lewis, 439th Air Expeditionary Advising Squadron aircrew flight equipment adviser.
The typical timeline to train a pilot to fly is three to four years, and training the person to maintain the aircraft takes five to seven years.
As part of the training, literacy is paramount. Workers not only have to be able to read and write in their local language, but also in English, the official language of international aviation.
Each platform has a different aircraft to maintainer ratio, but the goal is to have 80 percent of the tasks performed by Afghans within the next five years.
"Our job is to put ourselves out of business,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Phillip Stewart, commander, Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air.
Stewart called Afghanistan "one of the hardest countries in the world to fly in.”
The country is mountainous and lacks infrastructure. There are few roads, even fewer runways.
Stewart also noted that in building the AAF, they also have to train the Afghan National Army in how to utilize them.
"The Afghan ground forces are realizing and employing the capabilities of the Afghan Air Force. Aircraft like the MD-530's have increased the lethality of the ANDSF, and Afghan maintainers are trained and ready to sustain their fleets wherever they may be needed," said Carisio.
The maintainers were called upon in in February during an AAF combat mission when an MD-530 was damaged. No one was injured, and an AAF Downed Aircraft Recovery Team (DART) — mobile team of maintainers capable of recovering and repairing aircraft with little or no notice — was able to reach the helicopter and bring it back to Kabul for repairs.
In the recovery, the Afghan forces carried the attack helicopter over a stream to a road, where it was then brought to a secure area and loaded on an Afghan-piloted C-130 and returned to the capital city.
"From the time the aircraft made its precautionary landing to the time it got back in the hanger at the Kabul Air Wing, the Afghans did all the work,” said Carisio.
The DART teams are imperative to the mission because they go to the remote areas where aircraft may need repairs.
"The real key to building a successful Air Force in Afghanistan is not just having aircraft that they can fly, but aircraft that they can maintain and afford,” said Stewart.
Currently, the AAF is around 8,000 members strong, with 129 aircraft total. In the next six years the fleet is expected to triple in size, and the force will grow by roughly 40 percent.