Flying lead; Afghan Air Force takes over instruction of crucial air mission planning course
November 23, 2013
KABUL, Afghanistan (Nov. 22, 2013) -- It has been a year of significant milestones for the Afghan National Security Forces as they have taken a definitive lead in providing security for Afghanistan. The International Security Assistance Force has moved to an increasingly train, advise and assist role after nearly a decade of combatting the enemies of Afghanistan, shoulder-to-shoulder with Afghan forces. The ANSF have not only taken the lead on the ground, but are beginning to become more independent in the air as well.
The Afghan Air Force achieved several milestones in 2013 to include planning and executing complex resupply missions to remote outposts, evacuating more than 300 villagers during a natural disaster, and launching the largest Afghan-led joint, combined arms operation in more than 30 years. The AAF achieved its most recent milestone this fall when Afghan flight instructors took the lead in teaching their unit's Air Assault Planning Certification Course, a course instructed by U.S. Army 10th Combat Aviation Brigade advisors since late spring 2013.
"Afghans are now teaching Afghans," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brandon Deacon, commander of the U.S. Air Force's 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, responsible for advising the Afghan Air Force's 377th Squadron based in Kabul. "The (10th CAB) advisors are now assessing the Afghan's capabilities in teaching their own folks. Now that they have the initial capability, we can move on to ensuring they have trained instructors who can assess their ability to train themselves."
The U.S. Air Force 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron consists of advisors from the U.S. Air Force, which mentors Mi-17 helicopter pilots; and the Czech Republic, which mentors both Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopter pilots. The 10th CAB air assault planning advisors augment the overall 438th AEAS mission. Together they comprise the Kabul Air Wing Partnership.
"Because of the complexity of air assault training, the 377th Squadron would not be to this point so soon had they not been part of this team," Deacon said of the 10th CAB advisors. "To teach air assault and then going with us on training missions to assess the Afghan students, they've been an invaluable asset to (NATO Air Training Command -- Afghanistan, the command responsible for training the Afghan air force). Moving forward they are playing a key role to ensure an effective organic sustainable air assault capability exists well into the future."
Two senior Afghan aviators, both majors, the unit's executive officer and the unit's standardization officer, graduated from Air Assault Planning Certification Class 003 in July, 2013. They are now lead instructors for Air Assault Planning Certification Class 005.
The three-week course, designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of air operations, includes one week of classroom instruction, one week of simulator training and one week of actual flying. Class 005 successfully completed the classroom and simulator portion of their coursework and has completed one training flight as of mid- November. The class is expected to graduate after accomplishing their final capstone flight, which has been delayed in favor of real-world missions.
"Through this course we teach the fundamental skills required for a helicopter pilot in combat," said U.S. Army Capt. Brandt Anderson, the Task Force Falcon team leader for the Kabul Air Wing Partnership and a CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot with 10th CAB. "Together we work to shape the pilots' thinking regarding working for the ground force commander, the ability to conduct proper route and mission planning and to give them the skills to plan and execute a time-on-target with or without the use of GPS (Global Positioning Systems)."
During the classroom instruction, such topics as tactical mission planning, navigation and communication systems, air-ground integration, formation flight, reaction to contingencies, and rules of engagement, were presented to the already highly-skilled pilots. On day 5, the pilots planned and rehearsed a flight mission which involved flying to multiple bases.
In week two, the pilots took their flight plans to the simulator, a state-of-the-art mock up of an Mi-17 helicopter cockpit, situated in a large building nearby, to fly their mission.
"The simulator has been a force multiplier because of the high demand for aircraft to conduct combat missions," Anderson said. "We're able to enter weather and other variables such as cloud ceiling and winds and see how the pilots respond. They can do almost everything in the simulator that they can do in an aircraft."
Following a mission in the flight simulator, Nov. 5, 2013, the aviators and advisors returned to the briefing room to conduct an after-action review, a discussion which follows every mission, simulated or real-world. On a large white board at the front of the room was written: Did we accomplish the mission? Was it safe-efficient-effective?
The Afghan lead instructor, the unit's executive officer, who has received extensive flight training in the U.S. and Italy, led the AAR and facilitated discussion on topics such as planning, briefing, aircraft preparation, and the various phases of the mission. After discussing what aspects should be sustained and what should be improved, it was concluded that it was an all-around good mission.
The Afghan unit's standardization pilot said he believes the training is vital to ensure mission success and safety.
"Everything is important," the Afghan instructor said earnestly. "But in a difficult operation, it is important to drop the soldiers on time."
A lot of factors are involved in achieving precise timing of aerial missions; from proper coordination with ground forces command and control to calculating wind direction and speeds.
"We have improved a lot," he added. "We have to have good training to fly in a good manner. Careful briefing and planning is important to be well prepared so we don't make mistakes in the air."
The 377th Squadron currently has four Air Assault Planning Certification Course instructor pilots. Future plans for the Kabul Air Wing Partnership include sling load instruction, for which Anderson is currently creating the syllabus which will be handed to the next group of advisors around the beginning of 2014.
"This is a very rewarding mission seeing them succeed and seeing them not need us around as much," Anderson said. "I'm looking forward to seeing the Afghan Air Force continue to progress and working ourselves out of a job."
The Afghan aviators, already highly-skilled, have developed a greater capability to conduct efficient and effective aerial operations with what they have learned from the Air Assault Planning Certification Course. A cadre of Afghan instructors to carry on the training will enable the AAF to move toward becoming a professional, independent, operationally capable and enduring air force.
"It doesn't matter to me if it's taught by Afghans or U.S. For me everything is the same," an Afghan pilot, one of the students of the first Afghan-led Air Assault Planning Certification course, said with a smile. "But for my flight engineer, it is better to be taught in the Afghan language because his English isn't too good."