JALALABAD, Afghanistan – A team of nine Soldiers from the Security Assistance Training Management Organization has been on the ground in Afghanistan since January conducting combat mission training on the MD 530F helicopter for the Afghan Air Force. The training has provided the Afghan government with combat-ready qualified pilots and on Aug. 1 the first Afghan MD 530F Cayuse Warrior squadron was able to conduct aerial combat operations.
“This is a huge political/military milestone and a meaningful increased capability of Afghan light attack/recon for Operation Resolute Support and Afghanistan,” said Maj. Ken Lizotte, USASATMO’s team lead of the MD 530F Technical Assistance Fielding Team. The training is part of the Army’s security assistance mission of building partner capacity or capability to support our partner nations through the foreign military sales program.
Due to the reduction of U.S. air support in the future, the Army has provided this program to the Afghans with the goal to transfer ownership of the program over to the Afghan Air Force and enable them to continue training on their own by Sept. 30.
In 2011 three Soldiers, along with a team of U.S. contract instructors, from USASATMO stood up pilot instruction and logistics for the Rotary Wing Flight Training program in Shindand, which was the first training effort to be held in the country in 30 years. The pilots participating in the current training are already rotary wing aircraft qualified, many graduates of the program in Shindand.
Sixteen pilots have completed combat mission training, which met the Security Assistance Team’s charter of providing “four attack weapons teams, eight crews, by the end of September,” according to Chief Warrant 5 Joseph Santee, command chief warrant officer and senior aviation adviser at USASATMO.
The training consists of classroom instruction followed by hands-on flight training. Pilots begin with advanced maneuvers, progress into team tactics and conclude with gunnery and mission training.
The current mission is actually part of two separate, but related, ongoing operations being conducted by both the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan. USASATMO’s TAFT is directing the training of individual Afghan pilots to be qualified as combat ready.
“The USASATMO team is responsible for all facets of combat mission training in the MD 530F,” Santee said. “This includes training and evaluating all Afghan aircraft commanders, future Afghan instructor pilot and aircraft co-pilot training.”
Once an individual pilot completes the Army training and is deemed combat ready, they are assigned to the newly formed Afghan squadron which is being advised by the U.S. Air Force 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, Lizotte explained.
“The transition of Afghan pilots from U.S. Army-led training to the U.S. Air Force-led advising has occurred incredibly smoothly,” Lizotte said. “This is largely a credit of the Afghan pilots’ abilities and the hard work put in by the TAFT team members to ensure the pilots received quality training. This ensured they would be combat ready and within days of becoming an operational squadron, it was quickly proved in combat that the Afghan pilots were ready.”
The MD 530F helicopter is designed for high-altitude and hot-climate environments such as Afghanistan and has a more powerful engine than previous models.
“The armed MD 530, which is a smaller, lighter aircraft, has required a complete change within the Afghan helicopter community,” Santee said. “This mission is a total shift from previous Afghan air tactics, which had been based on the Soviet model and the MI-35.
“With the decrease in U.S. Army attack helicopter aircraft and the Afghan MI-35 helicopters reaching the end of their service life, the Afghan Army is without the helicopter close air support we have been providing them. This squadron and the few armed MD 530F helicopters are the first steps to bridge this capability gap.”
Santee said two of the instructors on the TAFT team have volunteered to stay behind, in support of the Department of Defense, and continue to train and advise the Afghan aviators on combat missions through January.
“The training that the U.S. Army TAFT team provided over the past eight months directly enabled the first-ever Afghan MD 530 squadron to be successful,” Lizotte said.
“The Afghan MD 530F crews have already been a part of successful combat missions, which is validating their training and giving pause to the enemy on the ground,” Santee added. “This success helps the Afghan Army gain faith that the Afghan pilots are properly trained and can provide effective combat power in support of their missions while reducing the number of civilian injuries.”
USASATMO, a subordinate command based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, falls under the Security Assistance Command and conducts training for international partners on materiel sought through the foreign military sales program.