This morning’s Department of Defense Bloggers Roundtable with Brigadier General David Allvin was interesting for this retired pilot who spent many years involved in training pilots and other crewmembers. Some of that training included flying with numerous international students from Saudi Arabia, Panama and Italy. As a trained test pilot Gen Allvin brings a unique perspective in his new role as the commanding general, NATO Air Training Command, NTM-A/CSTC-A. He outlined the focus of his command as:
1) Expand Operational Capability
2) Professionalization of the Air Force through Education and Training
3) Improving Command and Control of Afghan Air Force resources
The Afghan Air Force (the organizational name was recently confirmed by President Karzai) is part of the Afghan National Army (ANA) with its own structure and training. It is currently manned by 4,000 airmen and expected to grow to 8,000 during the current build up. They have 46 aircraft right now and expect to reach 150 in the future. They have MI-17 and MI-35 helicopters and C-27 and AN-32 aircraft. They are retiring the AN-32 which are exceeding their service life hours and adding additional C-27 aircraft and MI-17s. The purchase of the MI-17s from Russia with US dollars has created some controversy in the States but when queried about it the General responded that he knew a protest had been filed. If the current plan is implemented the Afghans will eventually have a fleet of 150 aircraft including a light attack fixed wing aircraft to provide close air support for Army forces. The aircraft for this role has not been selected yet but will augment the capabilities of the MI-35 and MI-17s (some of which have been upgraded with rocket pods).
The recent floods in Pakistan allowed the Afghan Air Force to show its operational capabilities as they delivered 188 tons of relief supplies, evacuated 1,900 personnel from the flood areas and saved the lives of 120 people! This international effort to assist the Pakistanis during this difficult time will certainly lead the way to future cooperation.
I asked the general about training challenges due to literacy issues with the Afghan population. He said they were similar to the Army and National Police which had been discussed in previous Roundtables but they were attacking the issue with expanded literacy training and technical training. For aviators another challenge is speaking English which is the language of international aviation. He said they are imbedding trainers with the Afghans during technical and English training. All discussions are in English and any violations result in push-ups and pull-ups! They currently have officers in the US attending pilot training and will be sending 22 to the UAE for training too.
The training program has been primarily a US effort with US Air Force pilots conducting flying training and other specialties as well. The mission is now expanding to NATO which brings some new capabilities for the trainers. For example, the Croatian instructor pilots now arriving have MI-17s in their inventory and are very familiar with this helicopter which the Americans are not. Other countries involved or soon to be involved include: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Canada, Jordan, Portugal, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and possibly Greece.
During the recent national elections the Air Force was used to expedite collection of ballots and other administrative efforts. They flew 225 hours in this effort and the general said it highlighted some of the weakness in their command and control. The coordination and taskings were not always centralized and resulted in some ineffective sortie efforts, etc. The end result for the elections was great according to the general but developing a “robust and see through” command and control structure is a must for improving their performance.
This was an interesting Roundtable for aviation enthusiasts, those interested in international relations and of course, those following our efforts in Afghanistan! If you would like to listen to or read the General’s comments please go to DoDLive for an audio or written transcript. For other interesting blogs on Afghanistan please go MilitaryAvenue’s Our Letters to You or to our Reading Room for interesting articles concerning Afghanistan and the military community. A big thank you to General Allvin and his staff for making him available for this Roundtable and to the moderator, Petty Officer Selby.
Credit: U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. David Allvin, NATO Air Training Command. Photo courtesy of NTM-A/CSTC-A