The US Air Force (USAF) has reported on its delivery of the first two Afghan Air Force (AAF) UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, earlier this month. The UH-60s are the first to be delivered to the AAF under the Aviation Transition and Modernization programme, said the USAF, adding that the plan to modernise and increase the AAF fleet will provide firepower and mobility enabling the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces to bring a decisive advantage to the fight against anti-government forces.
The primary purpose of the Black Hawks will be for troop and cargo transport, including casualty evacuation.
The first group of UH-60s will remain at Kandahar Airfield, where flight training for Afghan pilots is slated to begin in October. Air advisors assigned to Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air (TAAC), 738th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, will oversee the training programme, noted the USAF. Over the coming years, additional Blackhawks will be distributed to four primary AAF bases throughout Afghanistan.
“The AAF has grown in the last year and [their] asymmetric effects are changing the battlefield,” said Col Armando Fiterre, 738th AEAG commander, TAAC-Air. “As the AAF mission grows they are becoming a more modernised, sustainable and more capable air force.”
The UH-60s are just part of the plan to modernise and expand the AAF. Additions to its current fleet will increase strike aircraft numbers from 58 to 173, while its rotary aircraft fleet will increase from 74 to 173.
“The Blackhawks will gradually be replacing the Mi-17 in the AAF inventory over the next few years,” said Brig. Gen. Phillip Stewart, commander of the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing and TAAC. “While the Mi-17 is one of the AAF’s most advanced programmes when it comes to aircrew and maintenance capabilities, the programme cannot be continued indefinitely. The Mi-17s are expensive to maintain, difficult to sustain and experiencing higher than expected attrition rates.”