KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan –
The Afghan Air Force is expected to start flying missions with its new fleet of UH-60 Black Hawks before summer sets in.
Building the UH-60 program is a crucial part of Resolute Support’s plan to make a professional, capable, and sustainable Afghan Air Force.
"A tidal wave of Afghan airpower is on the horizon,” said General John Nicholson, Resolute Support commander, when the first Black Hawks arrived in 2017. "The momentum has shifted, and it is irreversible.”
The first pilots graduated in November from the UH-60 Aircraft Qualification Training, completing the initial training phase. In May, they will be mission-ready after they graduate from the follow-on Mission Qualification Training.
During MQT, AAF pilots are introduced to the tactical employment of the UH-60 in support of combat operations. During this phase the Afghan pilots learn details of mission planning, aircraft combat capabilities, and aircraft weapons employment under different modes of flight and environmental conditions. Upon completion of MQT, AAF pilots will be able to perform combat operations in all environmental conditions, day or night.
Sixteen pilots are expected to graduate along with an equal number of special mission operators, the enlisted crew that works in the back of the helicopter.
"We are doing our best right now, so I think everyone, all of the pilots who will qualify will be ready for the mission,” said 2nd Lt. Shahpur Pazhman. Pazhman, 22, is the youngest pilot going through MQT.
The UH-60s are the A-Model variant, with engine upgrades to better meet the operational requirements of the region. The Black Hawks will primarily support troop and cargo transport as well as carry out casualty evacuations.
Once Afghans graduate and become mission-ready, all their Black Hawk combat missions will be flown and led by Afghans.
"In the past, the Afghan National Army relied on the coalition for air support. While the coalition is still present they can also rely on their own countrymen overhead,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roger Hood, an air advisor with Train, Advise, Assist Command.
"I can assure the people of Afghanistan that the missions will be accomplished,” said another UH-60 pilot in the MQT.
As the UH-60 program builds, and the AAF pilots build their experience, the end goal is for the most seasoned and capable pilots to become instructor pilots and eventually train other Afghans creating a self-sufficient AAF training program.
"When we joined the Afghan Air Force, on the first day we took the oath to serve our country and we are standing by our word,” said Pazhman.