Written by Celso P. Santos exclusively for SouthFront; Edited by Rachel Lane
The Afghan Air Force (AAF) begins to use the A-29 Super Tucano in positions of destruction. The missions target extremist groups of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who are ensconced in the mountain range that occupies most of the country. The first four A-29 arrived in the capital, Kabul, on the 15th of January. They were welcomed by Defense Minister Mohamed Masoon, and incorporated into the Afghan Air Force. The air force plans to have a total of 150 aircraft, which are being formed with American resources.
The presence of these light attack aircrafts (LAA) in the continuing war of 13 years is the result of a complex diplomatic maneuver. Three years ago, the US government purchased a batch of 20 units from Brazilian Embraer Defense and Security and its American partner, the Sierra Nevada. The Pentagon, as the contractor, is paying $ 428 million for the package that includes spare parts, technical training and components.
Between now and November, the AAF will have another squad, adding eight A-29 Super Tucano. In the first half of 2017, four will go into action. The fleet is expected to be completed during 2018. But the plan does not end there. The Pentagon wants to negotiate a second order of 20 to 30 aircraft, bringing the purchase to the level of US $ 850 million – the price today with no configuration changes.
“This is a fighting aircraft which will destroy the centers of enemies in the country,” said Col. Bahadur, the AAF public affairs officer, through an interpreter. “This aircraft has the ability of transferring weapons like rockets and machine guns. This fighting aircraft will provide security and combat support from the ground units in ground operation.”
The aircraft, to be delivered in January, enter combat with the advanced weapon system class of JDAMS enabling precision bombing missions, according to Colonel Mike Lawhorn, spokesman for NATOs Decisive support operations program, a cooperation between the NATO and Afghanistan. Each kit includes a laser steering device and more sensors to launch the new Small Diameter Bombs (SDB), smart bombs, guided, lighter without loss of power of destruction, with a range approximately of 50km and above all more accuracy to a defined target.
“The delivery of the first four A-29 Super Tucano demonstrates our ability to meet the terms of the contract,” said Jackson Schneider, president of Embraer Defense. For the executive, “…[W]e have the best product in the market for light tactical support, a condition demonstrated by the fact that it was selected by 13 client countries.”
Air Force Scrapped
A year after NATO ended its combat mission in Afghanistan, the Air Force tries to rise alone and fight. Fighting the Taliban and the scarcity of resources and personnel with a handful of aircraft. When international troops arrived in Afghanistan 14 years ago, the air force was already scrapped after losing almost all of the 580 aircraft it had in its arsenal in the early 80s and during their civil war, 1992-1996, which preceded the Taliban government.
“In those days not even the countries of the region, including Iran and Pakistan had such advanced aircraft,” stated Atiqullah Anarchic, in a statement to an international news agency, the EFE. Anarchic, is a former commander of the air forces and political analyst.
Months after the end of the combat mission, and with NATO restricted to training and advisory tasks, and about 10,000 American soldiers having departed. Afghan security forces survive with a fleet of only a hundred aircraft and helicopters. Of them, only 33 are combat ready. Not nearly enough to even provide required air support for their 350,000 men.
“We set up units for weapons transport helicopters and use them at the same time to attack the militiamen and transport due to lack of combat aircraft,” the Ministry spokesman of Afghan Defense Dewlap Azeri explained to EFE. “Despite its current combat fleet being much higher than the five aircraft that had in 2014, Afghanistan still needs fighters and bombers to compensate for the absence of the more than 150,000 NATO soldiers who came to be in Afghanistan”, warned Azeri.
Brigadier General Christopher Craige, the commanding general at Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air said “It can fly at low speeds and low altitudes, is easy to fly, and provides exceptionally accurate weapons delivery. It is currently in service with 10 different air forces around the world. The A-29 program was designed to help Afghan pilots gain an advantage by providing close air support to friendly forces engaged in combat on the ground. Training pilots on the A-29 in the U.S. will provide them an opportunity to learn how to employ this weapons system and defend Afghanistan from insurgents.”
The first eight Afghan pilots were qualified in Moody and took the turboprops flying to Kabul in tandem with some of the American instructors from 81 Squadron of Hunting and will soon enter combat, according to Defense Minister Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai. By 2018, at least 30 pilots and 150 mechanics will have passed the courses in the USA. The minister said the first group will be involved in strike actions in the provinces of Nangarhar in the east and Helmand in the south.
It is a complicated task. The rebels build underground shelters under thick layers of rock up to 10 meters on the slopes of rugged mountains with very high peaks, at an altitude of 5000 meters. Access is difficult. The task of the A-29 Super Tucano will be launching explosive charges at the point of access to these armored caves, often located in difficult terrain.
In the opinion of an air group of former leader of aviation in Colombia, whose force largely employs the A-29 Super Tucano in similar actions against the guerrillas of the Revolution Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), “the aircraft increases the efficiency of smart bombs, reducing the error rate to landing a few meters.”