By Ms. Adriane ElliotSeptember 25, 2017
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - U.S. civilian and military personnel gathered in Huntsville Sept. 15 to load the first two UH-60A Black Hawks onto a C-17 en route for Afghanistan. The aircraft were delivered to Kandahar Airfield Sept 18.
This initial transfer is part of the U.S. government's effort to modernize the Afghan Air Force.
More than 150 Black Hawks, divested from U.S. Army stock, will be shipped to Afghanistan over the next five years, according to Giovanni Estrada, the Afghanistan country program manager at the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command at Redstone Arsenal. The Army Black Hawks will replace the AAF's aging fleet of Soviet Mi-17 aircraft.
Estrada is one of many individuals and organizations across the globe who have been hammering out the details for the last 18 months to coordinate this historic transfer under the Black Hawk Exchange and Sale Transaction (BEST) divestiture program.
"We all came together - sometimes on a daily basis - in teleconferences and working group meetings to work out how we would not only get the aircraft to Afghanistan, but also how to train Afghan pilots to fly them as soon as possible," said Estrada.
While it was a monumental effort with an urgency that saw scores of agencies throughout the world working around the clock, it is well worth the effort.
Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd, the program executive officer for Aviation, called the delivery timely as the AAF has taken more responsibility for providing their own airlift.
"The high utilization and accelerated attrition rate of the Mi-17 fleet has made the transition to Black Hawks essential to the Afghan forces' ability to maintain a high operations tempo as they battle against insurgent forces," said Todd.
"What's happening this evening is the direct result of the dedicated efforts of PEO Aviation, USASAC, AMCOM and other organizations that have worked tirelessly to execute the delivery of an incredible capability and combat multiplier to the Afghan Air Force," said Todd, the program executive officer for aviation. "This transfer of UH-60s along with the training of Afghan pilots is vital to developing their ability to meet their growing demand for air support."
AAF UH-60 training is ongoing at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and a class at Kandahar airfield will kick off in early October.
Delivery of more than 50 Black Hawks have been funded by Congress this year. Delivery of the remaining helicopters will rely on Congress approving funds every year to keep the program on track.
While testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of NATO's Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, said offensive capability will break the stalemate in Afghanistan, and the Afghan security forces' key offensive capabilities are their air force and their special forces.
Nicholson told the Senate panel "Congressional approval of funding for the Afghan Air Force is key to improving the offensive capability of the Afghan national defense and security forces, [and] there is an urgency to this request in order to get these aircraft and aircrews into the fight as soon as possible."
He also testified that "as a result of our training, equipping and partnering, the 17,000-strong Afghan special forces are the best in the region. They now operate independently on roughly 80 percent of their missions."
"Of the 98 U.S.-designated terrorist groups globally, 20 operate in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, along with three violent extremist organizations," Nicholson told the senators.
Nicholson said the main objective in Afghanistan is to keep the country from being used as a safe haven from which terrorists can attack the United States and its allies.