Recently, the Afghan Air Force grabbed headlines by dropping its first laser-guided bomb. From here, that might not seem so impressive — the U.S. dropped laser-guided Paveways in Vietnam as early as 1968. But, considering the fact that their military force was decimated by a civil war that began after the Soviets left in 1989, Afghanistan's military modernization is quite the shock.
Today, as World Air Forces 2018 notes, the Afghan Air Force has 12 A-29 Super Tucanos (with six more on order) as well as 28 MD530Fs (with 154 on order) and ten UH-1H Iroquois utility helicopters. The Afghan Air Force is also acquiring almost 160 UH-60A Blackhawk helicopters, four of which have already been delivered. These aircraft are set to replace a fleet of Russian-designed Mi-8/Mi-17 Hip transport helicopters and Mi-25 Hind attack helicopters.
Afghan Air Force MD-530F Cayuse Warrior helicopter fires its two FN M3P .50 cal machine guns
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Perry Aston)
The Super Tucano is currently a finalist in the OA-X competition (alongside the Beechcraft AT-6B). The UH-60A Blackhawk helicopters are second-hand, but will be upgraded with a newer engine and rocket pods before delivery. Afghanistan is also going to acquire Cessna 208 Caravan light transport aircraft armed with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
But did you know that, thirty years ago, the Afghan Air Force packed a lot of punch? An inventory of older equipment shows a lengthy list of Soviet designs were once in service, ranging from the Il-28 Beagle and MiG-17 Fresco to the MiG-23 Flogger. But 12 years of civil war wore that force down substantially. By the time Operation Enduring Freedom began, less than 20 planes were flyable. After Operation Enduring Freedom, there simply wasn't an Afghan Air Force.
One of what will be up to 160 UH-60A Blackhawks for the Afghan Air Force.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jared J. Duhon)
We've got a long way to go before the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS are defeated in Afghanistan, but the new Afghan Air Force should help speed that process along.