KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Afghan Air Force UH-60 Black Hawk crews conducted their first operational mission inHelmand Province, Afghanistan, May 8.
The mission, which was in support of the Afghan provincial elections, took place just one day after the first 31 Afghan Air Force (AAF) members graduated from mission qualification training, making them the first fully-qualified UH-60 Black Hawk Afghan air crews.
“It means a lot to be one of the first people to graduate,” said the air mission commander for the first Afghan operational mission. “We feel ready and are so excited, happy and proud to be part of this.”
According to Brig. Gen. Phillip Stewart, Train, Advise and Assist Command-Air commander, the introduction of the Black Hawk helicopters and the graduates themselves represent a shift to a new generation of leaders, selected based on merit and professionalism, and entrusted to help create a modern and sustainable Afghan Force.
“The introduction of the UH-60 marks the dawning of a new age for the Afghan Air Force,” said Stewart. “All of those who graduated mission qualification school have shown tremendous hard work and dedication. Not only are these aircraft and students the physical embodiment of progress, but they also represent a generational shift from the older soviet-trained forces to the younger and more progressive western-trained and educated fleet.”
The UH-60 will enhance the Afghan Air Force helicopter fleet andeventually replace the capabilities currently provided by the Mi-17, which is no longer a sustainable platform. Its implementation is expected to ease the burden on the aging Mi-17 fleet and transition the Afghan Air Force into a modern and sustainable platform for the future.
According to Maj. Gen. Mohammad Shoaib, Afghan Air Force commander, the Black Hawks are ideal for Afghanistan because they are suitable for the terrain and weather, and they possess more modern technology.
The first UH-60 Black Hawks arrived in Afghanistan seven months ago, allowing the training program to begin 18 months ahead of schedule. Currently the Afghan Air Force has 13 of these aircraft in their fleet with two more scheduled to arrive each month through the end of 2018.
Future UH-60 training will take place here, at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and in the Czech Republic and United Arab Emirates. It is expected that over 30 crews will be qualified by the spring of 2019.
Over the next five years, the Afghan Air Force plans to add over 100 more UH-60 variants to their inventory, allowing for increased aerial fires and lift capabilities, thus building a stronger, more capable force.
“Afghan Air Force modernization is essential for increasing competence, instruction, and education with merit-based advancement of its best leaders,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Christopher Goodyear, 738th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group commander. “The Afghan Air Force has come a very long way in a very short time; this mission is further proof of the air crew’s hard work and dedication.”
Established in 2015, Resolute Support (RS) is a NATO-led, non-combat mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), who assumed nationwide responsibility for Afghanistan’s security following the conclusion of the previous NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission. Its purpose is to help the Afghan security forces and institutions develop the capacity to defend Afghanistan and protect its citizens in a sustainable manner.