By SOF Editor on Mon, 09/28/2009 - 10:05am
The Afghan National Army Air Corps recently reached a milestone with the completion of the Initial Operations Capability Mi-35 attack helicopter program.
American and Czech Republic mentors recommended the Mi-35 program to the Ministry of Defense to provide security, show force and patrol the skies of Afghanistan.
The accomplishment required many hours of practice and training, but careful preparation was important when utilizing such a powerful aircraft.
The Mi-35 is a heavily armored aircraft, yet streamlined. It sports a 12.7 mm Yak-B Gatling gun. It also has the potential to carry up to four 57 mm rocket pods for a total payload of 256 anti-tank rockets. Often called a "flying tank," the helicopter is durable, powerful and well suited to the unforgiving temperature and terrain of Afghanistan.
Training for the Mi-35 crews began six months ago. The Combined Air Power Transition Force and the Czech Republic took on the role of Air Corps mentors. They provide guidance for maintenance, weapons load, operations and every detail in between.
While CAPTF has plans to train brand new pilots in the future, the crews that went through this initial phase required little more than refresher training.
"The good thing we have right now is all the Mi-35 pilots are all previously qualified," said Lt. Col. James Duban, 438th Air Expeditionary Advisor Group lead rotary-wing advisor. "Right now we don't have any new pilots coming through the pipeline, so we are using old, experienced pilots to fulfill this role. They're knocking off the rust and getting back into it."
For months the Afghan pilots and load crews worked in conjunction. They performed multiple weapon loads and live fire exercises to hone their skills for their current capabilities.
"We were improving with the coordination of the Czechs and also with the American mentors," said Col. Frogh Ulluh, Mi-35 pilot and forward air controller. "Day by day it is going to get better for us."
Forward air controllers, or "nochecks," were also trained as part of the Mi-35 program. Their mission was to communicate friendly locations, enemy locations and give the clearance to fire.
"This training is important to us. It is integral to verify enemy targets," said Maj. Farmanullah, Mi-35 pilot and forward air controller. "We want to get prepared for future missions."
The mentors focused on two primary missions for the Afghan pilots. The first was a security escort mission, defending afghan helicopters, transporting VIP's, troops or supplies as they move across the nation. The second mission type was to provide protection for Afghan ground forces, through pre-planned fires.
After the six months of exercises and practice, six Afghan pilots were evaluated and recommended by the advisors to perform the two core operations. Four days later the Ministry of Defense asked the pilots to fly "show of force" missions.
These tried and true pilots will continue to grow their experience and pass their skills on to the Nation's future.