Program building a self-sufficient Afghan Air Force
April 30, 2013
SHINDAND, Afghanistan -- The MD 530 Afghan Flight School has come full circle with the addition of two former students returning to the program as instructors, thus marking a major step forward in making the Afghanistan Air Force a self-sufficient military.
Lt. Col. Jeffery Bouma, U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization's team chief for the MD 530 course, deployed to Shindand in 2011 to set up the Rotary Wing Flight Training Program in Afghanistan in order to support a foreign military sales case for the country. The case, facilitated by the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command and managed by the PEO for Aviation's Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft project office, included pilot instruction and logistics.
Six MD 530 aircraft, two Flight Training Devices and additional equipment and critical spare parts were delivered in December 2011 to Shindand Air Base. The MD 530 course is intended to provide the Afghan Air Corps with a program capable of training, maintaining and sustaining itself without assistance from coalition partners.
"Our objective is to train 32 students annually," Bouma said. "A year ago, we only had one class with four students enrolled. Since then, the student pipeline has really expanded and we graduate a class every 90 days and immediately start a new one.
"Throughout the past year though we've made several changes to the program," he said. "We now have the conditions set to produce the best possible pilots under the adverse conditions here in Afghanistan."
The course load includes three phases. The student pilots begin with an eight-week Initial Flight Screening process on the Cessna 182 airplane, which includes basic airplane aerodynamics, physiology and an introduction to basic and advanced flight maneuvers. In addition to the initial screening, students also receive language training since all classes are taught in English. The next step for the class of Afghan Air Force lieutenant training candidates is a five-month Undergraduate Helicopter Pilot Training course. After graduating from the MD 530 course, the pilots will train on the Mi-17 in a six-week course before being assigned to operational flying positions throughout their country. Bouma commented that the program mirrors what a student attending Fort Rucker would experience, with some exceptions.
One year ago, the program was the first of its kind to be held in Afghanistan in more than 30 years. In that time, nine students have received their Afghan aviation wings. Eight more pilots are on track to graduate in May, with an additional five completing the program in July.
"We have progressed our first Afghan officer to aircraft commander in the MD 530 --Capt. Ahmad Bakhshi was our class leader in the first graduating class," Bouma said. He also noted that Bakhshi elected to remain at Shindand and continue his training with the ultimate objective of becoming an MD 530 instructor pilot.
Bouma says the future of the program relies on incorporating Afghan instructor pilots into the program.
"These officers are the future senior leaders of their Air Force," Bouma said. "They've volunteered twice -- once to serve in their Air Force and a second time to remain at Shindand as IPs. It's important to put an Afghan face on the instructor effort -- they will be very well-received by their fellow Afghans."
The Afghan students also understand the importance of the program. According to Bouma, they see the need to build a professional group of pilots for their Air Force and want to identify one future IP per graduating class. Ideally, there will be eight Afghan IPs supporting the program when it is turned over to the Afghan Air Force, which is projected for 2017.
"I'm confident that if we adhere to the 2017 handover timeline our Afghan IPs will be up to the challenge of assuming full responsibility for the training program," Bouma said.
In one year, a team deployed to Afghanistan to set up a new program from the ground up and supported our foreign allies to provide them with the necessary training and tools to expand their military capability.
The USASATMO team, a subordinate command of USASAC based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and their motto, "Training the World, One Soldier at a Time," is exemplified by the success of the Afghan Pilot program.
"This program demonstrates the commitment the U.S. has made to building a professional, self-sustaining Afghan Air Force," Bouma said. "We have built several solid relationships from the tactical to the strategic levels."