By Donna Miles
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 27, 2008 - With progress made in developing Afghanistan's army and police forces, the coalition focus there has expanded to include building an Afghan air corps, the U.S. general leading the effort told military analysts today. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jay H. Lindell, commander of the Combined Air Power Transition Force, described "an aggressive campaign" under way to develop a fully self-sustaining and operationally capable Afghan National Army Air Corps.
That effort has made solid momentum within the last year, since U.S. Central Command issued an approved development plan in September, Lindell said during a conference call from Kabul. To support the plan, the Combined Air Power Transition Force team expanded from just eight people a year ago to its current 129, he said.
The team's purview extends from helping the Afghans develop policy to acquire equipment to stand up the training programs, infrastructure and logistics operations required to support the air corps. In addition, the staff serves as advisors and mentors to the Afghan Air Corps, with daily interaction with the air wing operating at Kabul International Airport, Lindell said.
The air corps' development plan, currently in its first phase, involves acquiring additional aircraft and developing crews to fly and operate them, he said.
The Afghan Air Corps flies Mi-17 medium-lift helicopters, Antonov-26 and -32 fixed-wing transport turboprop planes, and four Mi-35 gunships, Lindell said. Efforts are under way to acquire more of the aircraft, all Russian-built, as options for replacement aircraft are explored.
Ultimately, the Afghan Air Corps will acquire its own organic pilot training capability. Lindell said a Western training aircraft is likely to be adopted.
A contract for a new fixed-wing aircraft, possibly Western-built C-27A models, is expected to be reached in the coming months, Lindell said. Mi-17s likely will be replaced with newer-version Mi-5 and -7 models, which although Russian-built, also are produced by several Western and NATO companies.
"We are looking at airframes that (provide) the best capability and the best value to get the mission done here in Afghanistan," Lindell said.