Report | Sept. 28, 2012

Assessment of U.S. Government and Coalition Efforts to Train, Equip and Field the Afghan Air Force


Who Should Read This Report?

Personnel within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the U.S. Central Command and its subordinate commands in Afghanistan, the Military Departments, and agencies responsible for and engaged in training, mentoring, equipping, fielding, and other aspects of the development of the Ministry of Defense, General Staff, Afghan National Army (ANA) and Air Force (AAF) should read this report.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has the overall responsibility for developing the civilian and military security institutions of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA). ISAF’s two main subordinate commands, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (NTM-A/CSTC-A) and ISAF Joint Command (IJC), each have complementary commitments and capabilities with respect to the development of the ANA and AAF.

NTM-A/CSTC-A has the lead responsibility for managing the use of appropriations authorized for training, equipping, and building the capacity of the GIRoA Ministry of Defense and the ANA (including aviation assets). Congress has so far appropriated $68.09 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund in support of the overall “train and equip” mission, of which the Afghan Ministry of Defense, ANA, and AAF are a part.

Afghan Air Force capabilities first formed in the 1920s and were virtually destroyed by the end of the Soviet and civil wars. In 2005, U.S. and Coalition Forces began fielding air advisors and rebuilding the Afghan National Army Air Corps (ANAAC). In 2006, the GIRoA Ministry of Defense established the ANAAC as a subordinate command within the ANA.

Initial efforts were led by the U.S. Army as the Combined Forces Afghanistan Air Division. In 2007, development of the ANAAC shifted from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Air Force under the renamed Combined Air Power Transition Force. Later, in 2008, U.S. Central Command Air Forces activated the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing as the U.S. Air Force organization for air advisors assigned to Afghanistan in support of the AAF. The 438th Air Expeditionary Wing commander and his staff have dual responsibilities, also serving as the NATO Air Training Command - Afghanistan (NATC-A). NATC-A fulfills the training, equipping, and capacity building function for Afghan air-power development in NTM-A/CSTC-A.

In February 2010, U.S. Air Forces Central Command completed an Afghanistan National Security Forces Airpower Requirements Review at the request of GIRoA Ministry of Defense. This document laid the foundation for the recommended roles, missions, and force structure for the ANAAC. The report emphasized sufficient and sustainable solutions, and changed existing acquisition plans to enhance long term affordability.

In March 2010, the Afghan Minister of Defense signed Decree 467 renaming the ANAAC as the AAF. The Decree realigned the AAF from a Corps in the ANA to a complementary organization similar to the Afghan Special Operations Command under the Chief of the General Staff. The AAF was organized with a Headquarters, three Air Wings, four Detachments, eight air units, and a training support infrastructure.

As of June 2012, the AAF was comprised of over 5,800 personnel and 97 aircraft, including the G-222 (C-27A variant) fixed-wing aircraft, the Mi-17, Mi-35, MD-530F helicopters, and 18 training aircraft (Cessna 182 and 208). By 2016, the AAF is expected to grow to over 8,000 personnel and 145 aircraft.

NATC-A was composed of Coalition military personnel, predominantly from the U.S. Air Force, but also included air advisors from 16 partner nations.

This report summarizes notable progress made by the AAF and advisor commands, and discusses 16 observations with recommendations.

Notable Progress

NATC-A has made significant progress towards the goal of creating an operational, independent, and sustainable AAF that meets international aviation standards and effectively supports the GIRoA, the MoD, and the Afghan National Security Forces. In addition to positive developments in the Kabul, Kandahar, and Shindand Air Wings, specific areas noted were:

  • AAF Professionalization Program,
  • NATC-A Assessment and Synchronization Tool,
  • Multi-national Composition of NATC-A, and
  • Pohantoon-e-Hawayee – the “Big Air School.”

Challenges—Areas of Concern

Systemic Issues

This report contains four broad observations covering systemic issues. These include:

  • difficulty in achieving a common vision for the roles, missions, and capabilities of the AAF,
  • need for enhanced capability to exercise command and control of air assets,
  • NATC-A personnel shortfalls, and
  • institutional integration of NATC-A into NTM-A/CSTC-A.

Training Issues

Four observations concerning training were identified:

  • Training, guidance, and oversight of air advisors assigned to the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing was insufficient for the effective conduct of air advisor flying duties.
  • The AAF Air Wings lacked qualified and certified maintenance personnel to maintain on-hand aircraft.
  • The Commander, NATC-A, was required to validate Mi-17 air worthiness; differing standards among U.S. military services and NATO country personnel capacity limited the availability of air advisors.
  • The proficiency of English language teachers was inadequate to effectively instruct AAF pilots, other aircrew, and maintenance personnel.

Equipping Issues

Three observations concerning unit and individual equipping were identified:

  • The G-222 (C-27A variant) dual-engine aircrafts were not suitable cargo aircrafts to support the development of an independent and sustainable Afghan Air Force in the near or long-term.
  • AAF organizations were not issued initial unit and personnel equipment, as authorized and required by GIRoA Ministry of Defense decrees.
  • Aircraft operating and maintenance manuals were not available in local Afghan languages.

Fielding Issues

Four observations concerning personnel and equipment fielding were identified:

  • The Afghan system for recruiting AAF officers and enlisted personnel assigned individuals with insufficient literacy, education, and potential to meet the technical capability requirements of a modern air force.
  • AAF pilot and aircrew compensation was inadequate to ensure retention of individuals who successfully complete technical and language training.
  • The designated senior airfield authority for Shindand Air Base did not have a formal command relationship with the organization providing airfield air traffic control.
  • A discussion of Base Operation Support–Integration at Shindand Air Base is included in the classified Annex to this report.

Other Issues

This report contains one additional observation that could not be categorized within the preceding topics.

Allegations Concerning G-222 (C-27A) Safety of Flight

In February 2012, U.S. Air Force pilots assigned to the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, responsible for training and mentoring the AAF, raised concerns over the continued safe operation of the G-222/C-27A medium transport aircraft. As applicable, these concerns were addressed in this report (see Observations 5 and 9, and Appendixes G and H).

In addition, in March 2012, the Commander, Air Force Central and the Commander, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing each initiated Commander-Directed Investigations into the allegations. The investigations were completed in April.

The primary finding was that the G-222 (C27-A) was not safe to fly in Afghanistan under existing policies and operational circumstances, but the command believed it had the capability to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. The command has made, and continues to make, changes in response to the recommendations contained in the reports of their investigations.

Finally, the DoD Office of the Deputy Inspector General for Audit and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations continue to address concerns related to airframe acquisition and procurement and contractor fulfillment of contract requirements. We will continue to monitor these efforts until they are complete.


At the time of this assessment, the AAF was at a nascent stage of development. U.S. and Coalition forces have only recently shifted their focus from generating the force to developing quality and professionalism. U.S./Coalition emphasis also has moved to training, equipping, and fielding ANA enabling organizations, to include AAF logistics and maintenance units, and other supporting infrastructure.

The Coalition designed and was building the AAF to have capabilities that accommodate the human capital and infrastructure of Afghanistan. However, GIRoA senior officials seemed to expect that their Air Force should have the same capabilities as the Coalition air forces conducting missions in their country. Moreover, senior civilian and military officials were not always following AAF command and control policies and procedures. This impacted AAF sustainability.

It will take an intensive and patient effort by Coalition advisors and ANA and AAF senior officers to build an independent and sustainable AAF. This complex challenge was made more difficult by the ongoing counter-insurgency campaign. Transitioning the AAF to an operational, independent, and self-sustainable force will require realistic expectations on the part of GIRoA, the continued application of sufficient US/Coalition resources, and a common vision between them with respect to AAF development goals and objectives.

This report is a result of Project No. D2011-D00SPO-0234.000.