US signs controversial Mi-17V5 contract with Rosoboronexport
June 03, 2011
The US is buying 21 Mi-17V5 multipurpose helicopters from Russia, despite the purchase of the helicopters from state arms exporter Rosoboronexport being controversial in the US.
Under the $365 million contract, which was signed on 26 May, the helicopters will be supplied to Afghanistan forces by the US Army Forces Command, with the first Mil aircraft expected to be delivered in October.
On the same day it was also announced that a maintenance facility for the aircraft would be built in Afghanistan as a money-saving effort.
‘We have agreed that this [Mi-17] joint project with the US will encompass this kind of facility on the territory of Afghanistan because the transportation of helicopters to Europe for repairs would be too expensive,’ deputy director of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, said.
The Mi-17 is an export version of the Mi-8 Hip, and was specifically designed for the Russian conflict with Afghanistan in the 1980s.
In 2006 sanctions were imposed on the Rosoboronexport after the US accused it of violating the nuclear non-proliferation regime by dealing with Iran, but this was lifted in May 2010.
As a result of the embargo, various private intermediary companies in the US established a profitable business acting as the principle providers of Mi-17s.
In October 2009, US senator Richard Shelby revealed in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the US had spent $807.2 million on the purchase of Mi-17s for the armed forces of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
The aircraft were acquired as a civil platform, and were eventually resold to the Pentagon following modification for military use. The acquisition came under scrutiny from Congress because of the trade ban with Russia, and because US platforms had not been considered.
Defence of the decision included that the Mi-17 type was familiar to these armed forces and was suitable for conditions in Afghanistan.
Under the terms of the contract maintenance, spare parts provision and ground support equipment will be provided. The helicopter is currently produced at two factories in Kazan and Ulan-Ude in Russia. The transport aircraft can carry 37 passengers, and features powerful turbo shaft engines.
Meanwhile Russian Helicopters announced in May that delivery of the first three Mi-171Sh to the Ministry of Defence of Peru was pending, following a contract signed with Rosoboronexport in 2010. The second batch of aircraft is expected to be delivered at the end of 2011.
Beth Stevenson, London
Afghan Air Force Completes First Year of Mi-17 Helicopter Intermediate Maintenance
(Source: Defense Technology Inc.; issued August 24, 2011)
KABUL, Afghanistan --- Defense Technology Inc. announced today that they completed teaching one year of Mi-17 intermediate level maintenance training for the Afghan Air Force. Over thirty Afghan soldiers have now graduated from the class and are ready to lead maintenance teams in the field.
Under the leadership of the USAF 440th Air Expeditionary Squadron, these classes were designed to provide experienced maintenance personnel with a refresher of OEM maintenance techniques and added theory to assist with trouble shooting.
The senior Afghan maintainers have a strong level of experience, but most have not had OEM-type training in 20 years. The commander of the Afghan Aviation Maintenance Group, Colonel Abdul Shafi, said that, "These courses have helped increase the knowledge of our Mi-17 maintainers and will improve the maintenance posture of our (Afghan) Air Force in general." He also noted that, "Graduates must apply what they have learned in the course to their responsibilities in maintaining the helicopters on the flight line."
The DTI training team, led by Bryon Kreck, received letters of appreciation from Afghan Air Force Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab for their exceptional service in support of this program.
DTI is committed to supporting the warfighter in Afghanistan by providing certified Mi-17/35 hardware and services at the best possible price. DTI is the only U.S. company to have provided all phases of Mi-17 life cycle support, including the delivery of new aircraft, field maintenance, training, spares and overhaul.
Military Again: Afghan AF Picks MD-530F Helicopters
Sep 08, 2011 14:13 EDT
In March 2011, MD Helicopters, Inc. in Mesa, AZ won a competition for the Afghan Air Force that could reach as many as 54 helicopters over the life of the 4 year contract, giving it an implicit value of up to $180 million. Discussions with MD Helicopters confirmed that these are MD 530Fs, designed for high altitude and/or hot weather operations, where thinner air cost helicopters some of their lift.
The MD 530F uses Rolls Royce’s 650 shp 250-C30 engine, instead of the 500E’s 450-shp 250-C20R. That drives a 5-bladed set of main-rotor blades that have been extended 6 inches, along with lengthened tail rotors on a correspondingly longer tail boom. In a typical working configuration, at a design gross weight of 3,100 pounds/ 1,406 kg and a useful load of over 1,509 pounds/ 684 kg, it can hover out-of-ground effect at 11,600 feet/ 3,536m (ISA + 20°C). An optional cargo hook is rated for 2,000 pounds/ 907 kg, and the helicopter also has a flat aft cargo compartment floor for internal loads. These may be training helicopters, but they can be repurposed for light utility tasks. MD Helicopter designs are not unknown in the military market
Contracts & Key Events
Sept 7/11: MD Helicopters, Inc. in Mesa, AZ receives a $14.2 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to provide logistics support and flight training devices for the Afghan Air Force’s MD 530Fs. Work will be performed in Shindand, Afghanistan, with an estimated completion date of March 31/16. One bid was solicited for this, with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-11-C-0070).
March 14/11: MD Helicopters, Inc. in Mesa, AZ wins an initial $19.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for 6 new primary training helicopters, 2 corresponding flight training devices, and critical spare parts for the Afghan Air Force.
That initial order could reach as many as 54 helicopters over the life of the 4 year contract, giving it an implicit value of up to $180 million. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ with an estimated completion date of March 31/16. The U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL solicited 9 bids, with 4 bids received (W58RGZ-11-C-0070).
News: AAF receives first fixed-wing trainers
438th Air Expeditionary Wing
Story by Capt. Jamie Humphries
SHINDAND, Afghanistan - The first three aircraft slated as initial trainers for the Afghan Air Force undergraduate pilot training program arrived at Shindand Air Base today, marking a historic day for Afghanistan and its nascent Air Force.
Arriving in front of onlookers including Afghan and coalition leadership, the three Cessna 182 Turbo aircraft, are the first of six to be used as initial flight training aircraft, with six additional Cessna 208B’s scheduled to arrive over the coming months as the fixed wing follow-on trainer.
In addition to the fixed wing program, there will be six MD-530 light helicopters delivered later this year, devoted to the rotary wing portion of UPT. These aircraft, along with six Mi-17 helicopters, will be used for advanced follow-on training. The initial instructor cadre of the training program is staffed by a handful of U.S. Air Force, coalition and Afghan instructors.
In 2009, the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense selected its first group of pilot candidates on which to build its future Air Force. Absent any indigenous training resources or facilities, the future pilots were sent to the U.S. where they were enrolled in language immersion training, followed by U.S. Air Force undergraduate pilot training.
According to officials, the AAF has begun a new and exciting chapter in its history by officially beginning its first-ever Afghan Flight School.
“Six years ago we had nothing, and today we are receiving our first three training aircraft,” Major General Abdul Wahab Wardak, Afghan Air Force Commander, stated in his speech during the arrival of the C-182T’s. “I once looked out to see our Air force scattered across Afghanistan, today we have brought our Air force back together here at Shindand, the only Air Force training base in Afghanistan.”
Wahab went on to thank the coalition and all of the advisers for helping them reach this historic occasion.
Officials also indicated the arrival of these first aircraft is a momentous step towards the creation of a self-sufficient, Afghan led flying training center of excellence at Shindand AB; a crucial piece in the development of a fully independent and operationally-capable Air Force.
Shindand AB will not only be the center for pilot training, but will eventually serve as the training center for much of the AAF. Included in the training center will be maintenance, language and professional military education as well as training and support functions and skills necessary for nearly 1,400 Shindand Air Wing Airmen to sustain base and flight-school operations.
“This is a huge task, developing an entire UPT program from the ground-up, to include infrastructure, aircraft, maintenance and personnel. But it is of the utmost importance to ensure it is done right in order to establish long-term sustainment of the AAF,” said Lt. Col. James Mueller, 444th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron Commander. “One of the most obvious signs of the importance of the mission and the long-term impact it will have on the AAF is the international coalition support you see here [in Shindand]. The U.S., Italian and Hungarian Air Forces as well as the U.S. Army and civilians are working hand-in-hand with our Afghan counterparts to ensure the future success of Shindand AB.”
During the ceremony, Col. John Hokaj, 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group Commander, reminded attendees of Afghanistan’s history and the commitment of the coalition forces.
“Throughout history, Afghanistan has seen many external powers come with the purpose of gaining access to resources, trade routes and markets,” the colonel said. “The mission of NATO and her coalition partners is vastly different. Our objective is to set the conditions for irreversible transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership.”
The first class of AAF pilots will begin later this year, marking the first time in decade’s new fixed-wing pilots have been trained in Afghanistan.
These students, along with their Afghan counterparts currently undergoing flight training in the U.S., will graduate as fully-rated instrument pilots and serve as the backbone of the AAF and will fill a critical role in the transition to a fully capable and self-sufficient AAF explained advisers.
Alenia North America Continues G222 Aircraft Deliveries to Afghanistan Air Force
(Source: Alenia North America; issued September 20, 2011)
WASHINGTON, DC –-– Alenia North America, a subsidiary of Alenia Aeronautica and part of the Finmeccanica group, announced that it has delivered aircraft 12, 13 and 14 of the 20 G222 aircraft ordered by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to the Afghanistan Air Force (AAF). One aircraft deployed to Kabul earlier this month and the second and third will deploy before the end of September. These aircraft will continue to be used by the USAF and the AAF to conduct mission operations in Afghanistan.
The AAF G222 fleet has flown over 4,700 hours. The missions have been dedicated to providing humanitarian aid, MEDEVAC and security to Afghanistan.
Two of the G222 that have been delivered to the AFF are in a VIP configuration; these aircraft have already been used to support VIP transport within the country.
“Alenia North America is looking forward to continuing to be involved in the G222 program in future years,” said John Young, chief executive officer of Alenia North America. “The G222 has become the backbone of the country’s growing Air Force and has provided vital support to ongoing missions in Afghanistan.”
About the G222 AAF Program
Alenia North America is under contract with the United States Air Force to supply 20 refurbished G222 aircraft for the AAF. The refurbished aircraft are in use by the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) and will be transferred by the NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan (NATC-A) in Kabul to the reconstituted AAF.
Alenia North America, as prime contractor, is responsible for program management and management of logistics support while the aircraft are being refurbished and modernized by its parent company Alenia Aeronautica in its Capodichino facility near Naples, Italy. Additionally, Alenia North America is responsible for providing contract logistics support and contractor operated and maintained base supply operations for the G222 program in Afghanistan.
MD Helicopters delivers first 3 MD 530Fs
October 12, 2011
MD Helicopters, a leading manufacturer of commercial and military helicopters presented the first three (3) MD 530Fs to the US Army as part of the Rotary Wing Primary Training Aircraft-Afghanistan Program.
Attendees to the delivery ceremony included Major General William T. Crosby, Program Executive Officer, Aviation and Lynn Tilton, CEO of Patriarch Partners and MD Helicopters, Inc. "This delivery and ceremony symbolizes our commitment to the US Army to meet its needs and our dedication to the American Soldier to provide the aircraft that will be part of the plan to bring them home. We struggle to find the words to express our appreciation for the opportunity to serve this honored customer" stated Tilton.
The initial award calls for six (6) MD 530F Helicopters for training purposes and could reach as many as fifty four (54) aircraft over the life of the four year contract. The Department of the Army Contract, as awarded to MD Helicopters includes flight training devices and comprehensive spares provisioning. The production effort is currently 45 days ahead of schedule, facilitating helicopter delivery to begin only six months after contract award.
Source: MD Helicopters
MD Helicopters wins $14m logistics contract
October 12, 2011
MD Helicopters, a leading manufacturer of commercial and military helicopters has been awarded a $14,237,169 fixed-firm contract from the US Army to provide logistics support operations of rotary wing primary training aircraft and flight training devices for the Afghan Air Force.
All work will be performed in Shindand, Afghanistan in support of the Primary Rotary Wing Training Aircraft MD 530F helicopters. Support operations under this contract include maintenance training, factory spare parts, specialized tooling, on site field service, maintenance facilities and logistics coordination.
"This contract award trusts us with the support and ongoing service of the MD 530F aircraft to be delivered in the region for multiple years. We look forward to meeting the needs of our new customer in Afghanistan," stated Ms. Tilton. The first 3 MD 530F helicopters were presented to the Non Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft Project Office of the US Army on September 13, 2011.
Source: MD Helicopters
NATO Builds on Afghanistan’s Once-modern Air Force
Afghan aircrews train on their Mil Mi-17 helicopters.
09:51 GMT, November 3, 2011 WASHINGTON | Afghanistan’s military retains the vestiges of a modern air force, and its skilled and eager airmen have NATO trainers encouraged as they build up the force, the commander of NATO Air Training Command Afghanistan said Nov. 2.
The Afghanistan air force has about 5,000 of its 8,000-member goal, and 66 of 145 aircraft NATO plans to provide it, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Timothy Ray said during a meeting with reporters at the State Department’s Foreign Press Center here.
“Back in the 1970s and ’80s, they actually had a very modern air force,” Ray said. The force had mostly Russian-made aircraft, which were new then, but either were lost in later combat or weren’t maintained after the country fell to the Taliban, he said.
“But I can tell you that we are building on that expertise and bringing in a young force behind them,” Ray said.
So far, NATO has trained 12 of at least 70 air crews it plans for the force “well past 2014,” when coalition forces are to turn over security control to the Afghans, the general said. “There will be an enduring relationship between the United States, NATO and Afghanistan,” he said. “We’re not going to just take everything out. We’re going to stay there and help them train.”
While there are years to go in training, Ray said, some of the Afghan airmen are exceptional. “I’ve flown with the Afghans. I’ve been in the cockpit with them,” he said. “I’ve seen them in action. And I can tell you, they are very good.
“Some of ones I’ve flown with have done a brilliant job,” he continued. “I’ve actually seen them correct NATO instructors. I’ve seen them explain things in the cockpit that I would expect of our own forces. There’s growth going on there, and there’s talent to build on.”
About 80 Afghan airmen are in pilot training in the United Arab Emirates, at least 10 are being trained in the United States, and four others are in the Czech Republic, Ray said. Afghanistan will start its own pilot training in December, which will include its first female air force pilot. More are learning English – the international language for aviators -- as part of the pipeline for becoming a pilot, he said.
The coalition is teaching Afghan forces to train their own, and to be stewards of their vehicles, aircraft and equipment, Ray said, and doing it in ways familiar to the Afghans. Most of the aircraft being bought for the Afghans are Russian made, such as Mi-17 helicopters, and Czech Republic forces have taken the lead in maintenance training, he said.
NATO is focused on leader training and literacy, Ray said. One of the biggest hurdles to the Afghan air force is that 85 percent of its recruits are illiterate and innumerate, he said.
“When you have Afghan police who can’t read a passport, or can’t read the paperwork he’s signing; he doesn’t know how much money he’s being paid,” Ray said. “When you tell an Afghan soldier to put four bullets in his gun, and he doesn’t understand that, [it’s a problem]. … It’s an absolute game changer when you teach them to read and write.”
The NATO trainers are getting the recruits to third-grade literacy, “and that’s a fundamental difference in the culture of Afghanistan,” he said.
“The Taliban did absolutely nothing for this country,” he added. Now, we have over 8 million kids in school. So, we’re raising the overall level of the Afghanistan people in a meaningful and lasting way.”
Thirty-seven NATO and partner nations are involved in building Afghan security forces, and more countries send money, Ray said.
The air force buildup is part of the command’s goal to grow Afghan forces – army, air force and national police – from about 200,000 currently to 352,000. The NATO goal would put the army at 187,000, and the police at 157,000 to last well past 2014, when the coalition plans to turn over all of Afghanistan’s security to its own forces, Ray said.
Afghan security forces are in control of security for 25 percent of the country’s population, he said, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce soon the transition of more areas to fall under Afghan security.
NATO trainers also are seeing much improvement in army and police forces, Ray said. The army is doing “a much better job embedding with our coalition partners,” and the national police “have done an amazing turnaround and are far more capable” than two years ago when, he acknowledged, they were “a questionable crowd.”
The command raised police pay, extended training from six to eight weeks, and started human rights training, Ray said. The police are responding more on their own now, including in recent severe flooding in the northeast, and “showing people that the Afghan government is there for them,” he said.
American Forces Press Service
Afghan pilot candidates make history, head to pilot training
Posted 11/17/2011 Updated 11/17/2011
by Capt. Jamie Humphries
438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Afghan air force pilot candidates stand at attention during an official ceremony recognizing their efforts in the Afghan Air Force Conference Center, Kabul, Afghanistan, November 17, 2011. The seven students will leave for Shindand Air Base in western Afghanistan in December where they will begin the first undergraduate pilot training program to be held inside Afghan borders in more than 30 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Smith)
2nd Lt. Khan Agha, speaks to Afghan air force pilot candidates during an official ceremony recognizing their efforts in the Afghan Air Force Conference Center, Kabul, Afghanistan, November 17, 2011. The seven students will leave for Shindand Air Base in western Afghanistan in December where they will begin the first undergraduate pilot training program to be held inside Afghan borders in more than 30 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Smith
11/17/2011 - KABUL, Afghanistan -- Seven Afghan air force lieutenants have been selected to attend the first undergraduate pilot training held exclusively inside Afghanistan in more than 30 years.
The seven airmen were honored in a ceremony at the Afghan Conference Center on the AAF compound today and will now leave for Shindand Air Base in western Afghanistan where they will start their journey towards becoming pilots in the AAF.
Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan commander, attended the ceremony, as did Maj. Gen. Mohammad Dawran Masoomi, commander of the Afghan National Army Air Force; Maj. Gen. Abdul Wahab Wardak, AAF commander; and Brig. Gen. Tim Ray, commanding general, NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan and 438th Air Expeditionary Wing commander.
"It is very difficult to become an Air Force pilot. Only a few can meet the demands of flying military aircraft. There are physical, mental and leadership talents required," said Bolger as he addressed the graduates.
The pilot candidates, from provinces throughout Afghanistan, are graduates from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan as well as Initial Officer Training, held in the United Kingdom and since graduation have been enrolled in the Kabul English Language Training Center where they've studied and developed the English language needed to fly.
In addition to learning English at KELTC, they also live at Thunder Lab on the AAF compound. Thunder Lab is a program designed to help supplement the student's English skills and improve their officership, aviation terminology and improve their leadership.
One of the honorees, 2nd Lt. Khan Agha, addressed his class, Thunder Lab mentors and AAF members in attendance about the significance of the occasion.
"We have spent several months in Thunder Lab improving our English skills, because English is the primary language for aviation," Agha said. "Since all of the instruction at pilot training will be in English, it is important that we are prepared to understand the English language. Thunder Lab has given us this opportunity. Thunder Lab has not only allowed us to enhance our English but it has also taught us about leadership, team work and professionalism."
Having something in common with the soon-to-be pilot trainees, the commander of the 438th AEW, spoke candidly to the students offering them words of encouragement as they begin their journey of flying an Afghan aircraft.
"To the graduates, you have proven your capability through hard work and determination and in doing so, you will now have the opportunity to begin a very special journey...to become a pilot," said Ray.
According to Shindand officials, the AAF recently accepted delivery of nine new aircraft that will be used to train the AAF's newest pilot candidates. Pilot candidates will receive approximately 60 hours of academic instruction and flight screening in the Cessna 182T prior to beginning flight training.
The students tracked to rotary wing aircraft will receive 380 hours of academic, simulator and flight instruction in the MD-530F and those tracked to fixed wing aircraft, will receive 470 hours of academic, simulator and flight instruction in the C-182T and Cessna 208B aviation experts said.
New Airframe Adds Strike Capability to Afghan Air Force
(Source: U.S Air Force; issued January 15, 2012)
KABUL, Afghanistan --- In the Afghanistan government's continued effort to independently battle counterinsurgency, a new tool will be added to their arsenal designed to allow versatility, reconnaissance and precision weapons placement to the growing Afghan air force.
Announced Dec. 30, the U.S. Air Force has approved a contract worth more than $350 million that will provide the Afghan air force with at least 20 A-29 Super Tucano light air support aircraft, ground training devices and all associated maintenance and support equipment originally slated to arrive mid-to-late 2013.
According to Brig. Gen. Tim Ray, the NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan commander, the Tucano was "tailor made" for the Afghan's counterinsurgency mission and provides a cost-effective, easy to sustain platform to help augment the Afghan air force's already capable lift and training platforms.
"The LAS platform signals a milestone in moving beyond lift and rotary wing where we're really not going after the enemy," Ray said.
"The Tucano is the most kinetic, most offensive aircraft they'll have, and I'm sure a big morale boost to the troops on the ground when they see it overhead. It's the right kind of platform for the terrain, the fight and most importantly, it's easy to sustain," he said.
Built for counterinsurgency missions, the light air support platform -- specifically the Tucano -- has been the heavy lifter in fighting antigovernment elements around the world. More than 150 units across the globe have logged a collective 130,000 flight hours with more than 18,000 combat hours with no recorded losses.
Mirroring the same success in Afghanistan relies on two primary missions. The first is ensuring related costs of the light air support stay within the Afghan government's current and projected budgets.
"The LAS operates at a fraction of the cost of other strike platforms," Ray said. "The engine in the aircraft is incredibly reliable and very simple. We have the same engines in the Cessna 208s and it's the most reliable in the aircraft industry that I'm aware of."
The second is training pilots and pilot trainers capable of handling the aircraft in combat scenarios.
"The Afghans are good aviators," Ray said. "When it comes to the basic stick and rudder skills and bravery, they are more than suitable, and we have two curriculums being refined to train the advisors and to train the students. We already have students flowing out of the different pilot training pipelines and learning the basics of flying fixed wing aircraft. The follow on of course would be a mission training program that would give them the skills to employ the LAS in combat."
The light air support's addition marks the final major complement to the Afghan air force's inventory of more than 100 varied aircraft and sets the stage for future growth. Basic training for the light air support airframe will be conducted at Shindand Air Base with follow on mission training held at a different location yet to be determined.
Activated in 2009, NTM-A is a coalition of 37 contributing nations charged with assisting the government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in generating a capable and sustainable Afghan National Security Force ready to take lead of their country's security by 2014.
July 24, 2012, 10:30 p.m. ET.
U.S. Builds Afghan Air Base, but Where Are the Planes?
By NATHAN HODGE
Video here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...DDLESecondNews
A new headquarters is being built at the Shindand air base in Afghanistan. But orders for warplanes promised by the United States are delayed and the Afghan Air Force is unlikely to be fully functional until 2017. WSJ's Nathan Hodge reports.
SHINDAND, Afghanistan—Shindand Air Base has an 8,000-foot runway, a gleaming new headquarters complex and a cadre of motivated Afghan pilot candidates.
Because of the way Washington operates, however, it lacks warplanes.
The budding Afghan air force was supposed to receive $355 million worth of planes custom-made for fighting guerrillas well ahead of the U.S. withdrawal in 2014. Equipped with machine guns, missiles and bombs, those reliable, rugged turboprop aircraft are cheaper to operate and easier to maintain than fighter jets.
An Afghan soldier stands guard near an aircraft donated by the U.S. to the Afghan air force at an air base in western Afghanistan.
The Afghans won't get the planes on time. The Air Force initially awarded a contract to a U.S. company to supply Brazilian-designed planes. But it canceled the contract after a Kansas-based plane maker filed suit to block it, and the Air Force decided the contract had insufficient documentation. The Kansas congressional delegation also lobbied hard against the Brazilian plane. The Air Force has started the bidding process again, and a new contract likely won't be awarded until next year.
Afghanistan is unlikely to gain an independent, fully functioning air force until around 2016 or 2017, two to three years after the U.S. pullout, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Timothy Ray, who heads the NATO air training command in Afghanistan.
"They have wasted the most precious commodity they have in combat, which is time," says Edward Timperlake, a former Marine Corps fighter pilot who served as a director of technology assessment at the Pentagon until 2009 and is now retired.
Problems with the Afghan warplanes add to a separate controversy over a $275 million fleet of U.S.-provided C-27A cargo planes that has remained grounded for months because of lack of maintenance and spare parts, information first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
At a meeting with President Hamid Karzai and security officials in late May, the Afghan military expressed "unease" over the slow pace of the air force's revival and asked for urgent talks with the U.S. and allies to tackle the issue, according to a presidential statement.
Nathan Hodge/The Wall Street Journal
The remnants of Soviet-made fighter jets at Shindand Air Base.
Obtaining these attack planes "is very important for us in order to support our infantry, the army on the ground," says Afghan Lt. Gen. Mohammad Dawran, chief of staff for the Afghan air force, in an interview. "We desperately need to intensify the capacity of our air force."
Air power is essential for policing Afghanistan, a mountainous land with forbidding terrain, harsh weather and few roads. Recent events have underscored its importance in quelling the insurgency. When the Taliban staged attacks in Kabul and across the country in April, Afghan security forces managed to end the assault thanks to U.S. air support.
The country's previous occupiers knew this well: As the Soviets withdrew in 1989, they left to the Afghans over 400 military aircraft, including over 200 Soviet-made fighter jets. Remnants of that defunct air force—rusting supersonic Su-22 attack planes, bullet-perforated Mi-6 heavy lift helicopters—now litter the boneyard of Shindand, the hub of the Afghan air force near the Iranian border.
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Baqi, the top Afghan air force commander at Shindand, likes to bring young Afghan trainees here for a history lesson. The scrap heap, he says, is a reminder of "what a strong air force we had" before the base was battered by Afghanistan's civil war, and before its runway was cratered by U.S. bombs during the 2001 campaign to oust the Taliban.
U.S. Air Force
An Afghan pilot in an Mi-17 helicopter takes off.
"We don't want the same thing to happen to our new air force that happened to the last one," he says.
Across from the Shindand scrap heap these days, hundreds of Afghan construction workers in hard hats and reflective vests are putting the finishing touches on a headquarters facility for the Afghan air force. Concrete for aircraft parking spaces is freshly poured; dormitories for enlisted personnel are coated with canary-yellow paint; and spacious new aircraft hangars with curved roofs rise over the flight line.
U.S. Air Force Col. John Hokaj, until recently the commander of the advisory group that helps oversee the training of Afghan aviators, had signs placed in front of the construction site advertising it as the "home of the Afghan air force," a gesture to Afghanistan's sovereignty.
All told, the U.S. has spent nearly $300 million on upgrading the Shindand facilities. The base has a brand-new fleet of small fixed-wing aircraft: Six Cessna C-182T training planes and 12 Cessna C-208B short-haul transports, both propeller-driven aircraft painted in military gray with Afghan air force livery.
Young Afghan helicopter pilots are flying the MD-530F, high-performance training helicopters made by MD Helicopters Inc. of Mesa, Ariz. They eventually graduate to the Russian-made Mi-17, a workhorse transport chopper.
Shindand's training program, Gen. Baqi said, was on track to turn out a competent new group of pilots. Problem is these pilots will have no actual aircraft for close-air support missions once their training is completed.
"We have a commando unit here, we have a police garrison, we have district center police; whenever they need air support they ask us and we say, 'Oh, this is a training unit, we don't have any air support,' " the Afghan general lamented.
The U.S. Air Force was supposed to be remedying that situation by now. At the height of the Iraq war, as the conflict in Afghanistan simmered, the Air Force began studying options for "counterinsurgency" aircraft, light planes equipped with sensors and weapons that could provide affordable close-air support. One of the best-known options on the market was a Brazilian-made plane, the Super Tucano. The rugged fighter plane is flown by the militaries of Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Colombia, where it is used in counterinsurgency and drug-interdiction missions similar to those required by Afghanistan.
Sierra Nevada Corp., based in Sparks, Nev., joined with Brazil-based Embraer SA ERJ -1.93%in 2010 to offer the Super Tucano to the Air Force. Rival aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft Corp., based in Wichita, Kan., offered the AT-6, a modified version of a plane that the U.S. military currently operates as a basic trainer for Air Force and Navy pilots.
In 2009, Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Todd Tiahrt, both Republicans of Kansas, sent a letter to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates voicing "strong and unequivocal objection" to any possible deal between the U.S. and Brazil for the Pentagon to acquire the Super Tucanos as light-attack planes.
The following spring, U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the top commander in Afghanistan, sent an urgent request to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to acquire four Super Tucanos to provide extra air power to support Special Operations troops in Afghanistan.
The project stalled after lawmakers blocked a $44 million request for funding. The Kansas congressional delegation played a major role in stopping the funds, said Mr. Tiahrt, who left Congress last year after losing the Kansas GOP Senate primary.
The former Kansas representative said he was concerned the deal would give Embraer a leg up in any future Pentagon contest to buy light-attack planes. Mr. Tiahrt, who has worked as a consultant to Hawker Beechcraft and other U.S. aviation companies since leaving office, added that he and other lawmakers "wanted to give American workers a chance to compete for the tax dollars." Former Sen. Brownback, who is now governor of Kansas, declined to comment on the issue.
Despite such lobbying, the U.S. Air Force excluded the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 planes from running for the Afghan warplane contract in November 2011, effectively handing the deal to the U.S.-Brazilian consortium.
Hawker Beechcraft responded by lodging a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO dismissed the protest in December. According to the GAO, the Air Force found "significant weaknesses" in Hawker Beechcraft's proposal that made its offer too risky. The Air Force, citing competitive sensitivity and litigation, hasn't given a detailed explanation of that decision. But proponents of the Embraer plane point to a core difference between the two aircraft: The Super Tucano is in service with many militaries, while the AT-6 is a modified version of a training plane that is untested as a combat aircraft. Hawker counters that the Super Tucano is the riskier choice, because the AT-6 is based on a plane that is already used by the U.S. military and has an existing training and parts-supply base.
Last December, the service awarded a contract worth $355 million to Sierra Nevada for 20 Super Tucanos to the Sierra Nevada/Embraer team. Hawker Beechcraft then filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to stop the Air Force from moving forward with the contract. In the suit, Hawker argued it was improperly excluded from the contest. "It was a flawed process," said Bill Boisture, the chairman of Hawker and the head of its Hawker Beechcraft Defense Co. subsidiary.
In late February, the U.S. Air Force moved to cancel the contract for Super Tucanos and restart the contest. In a statement, the service said that top procurement officials were "not satisfied with the documentation" in the original round of bidding. Both Hawker Beechcraft and the Sierra Nevada/Embraer team are vying for the contract the Air Force now expects to award early next year.
Sierra Nevada subsequently sued the Air Force to reinstate the December contract. "We do think that we won on technical merits, we do think we have the only solution that's out there," said Taco Gilbert, vice president of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance business development at Sierra Nevada.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the cancellation of the original contract for the light-attack planes "was profoundly disappointing" for the service. "We know our Afghan partners need this capability, and we restarted the acquisition as quickly as we could," he said in a statement.
For both Embraer and Hawker, the stakes of winning the contract are high. For Embraer, a win would provide an entry into the U.S. defense market, the largest in the world. For Hawker Beechcraft, which filed for bankruptcy protection in early May in the midst of the restarted competition, a contract would keep production lines open.
In a new twist, the company recently disclosed discussions with a Chinese firm, Superior Aviation Beijing Co., over the sale of most of its businesses, but Hawker said a potential transaction with Superior wouldn't include its military aircraft segment.
The procurement delays represent another setback for the U.S. Air Force, which saw its reputation suffer during a decadelong fight over a multibillion-dollar contest to build a fleet of aerial refueling tankers. That competition, which pitted Boeing Co. BA -1.21%against the U.S.-incorporated unit of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., EAD +0.48%or EADS, became one of the most politicized Pentagon acquisition projects in recent years. Boeing eventually won the tanker order in 2011, but only after the collapse of a scandal-tainted lease deal and a successful protest of a contract award to EADS.
"The whole Washington environment for source selection is polluted, is toxic," says retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Tome Walters, former head of the Pentagon agency that oversees foreign military sales.
Big-ticket weapons deals such as the Afghan air force contract have become "a life or death issue" for many defense firms, leading to protests and litigation that stall delivery, he added. "There is no downside, there's no penalty for filing a protest. In an era of a decreasing number of contracts, it's taken as almost a given that the losers are going to protest."
In Shindand, meanwhile, Afghan pilot candidates—who include three young women—are hoping that the promised warplanes will arrive here one day. Like young pilots in any air force, they are dreaming of speed.
Second Lt. Emal Azizi and 2nd Lt. Walid Noori said they initially expected to be assigned to transport planes such as the C-208B or the C-27A once they graduate this year. Both, however, said they yearn to fly combat missions against the Taliban.
"In Afghanistan most war is like a guerrilla war, so we need fighters," said Lt. Azizi. Lt. Noori added with a grin: "I want to be a fighter pilot."
A version of this article appeared July 25, 2012, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: U.S. Builds Afghan Air Base, But Where Are the Planes?.