Afghan Airmen Gain New Airpower Capability
As the 2013 fighting season continues in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Security Forces can add yet another airpower capability to their ever increasing list: air attack from an Afghan air force Mi-35 HIND attack helicopter.
Members of the 377th Rotary Wing Squadron from the Kabul Air Wing fired 23 mm rounds from newly mounted twin-barreled Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23 guns on an Mi-35 for the first time on May 15.
This achievement represents a significant milestone in the Afghan air force and NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan Combined Strategic FlightPlan.
"This weapons system provides a vital air-to-ground capability to destroy a target on the ground from the air," said Lt. Col. Brandon Deacon, the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander and adviser to the 377 RWS.
After more than two months of coordinating weapons and ammunition availability, shooting range openings, live-fire training permissions, maintenance challenges and balancing of mission priorities a two-ship Mi-35 formation launched to practice this new and essential capability. The crew consisted of both Afghan pilots as well as Czech instructors from NATC-A.
"Having these capabilities on the Mi-35 is very critical to the Afghan air force," said Col. Khair Mohammad Hashmi, a 377 RWS pilot. "It allows us to protect our borders and support our soldiers during ground operations."
This live-fire exercise marked the first time in history that the Afghan air force has had all three weapons systems installed on the Mi-35. The systems include the GSh-23, the Yak-B 12.7 mm machine gun and the S-5 57 mm rocket pod. During the training mission the Afghan air force pilots fired a total of 725 rounds between the two aircraft.
With close-air support as a top priority for Afghan National Security Forces, the continued growth of these capabilities and doctrine development will prove vital. Doctrine development for the command and control of aerial fire missions and the employment of Mi-17s and Mi-35 in air-to-ground support missions such as aerial escort, air interdiction and close combat attack will help to mitigate any potential gaps as coalition forces begin to draw down.
Once Afghan air force pilots complete final certifications on all three weapons systems, they will be able to employ the fixed-forward GSh-23s to destroy high-value targets from the air in support of ground combat operations.
"What the Afghan air force is eventually working toward is the ability to be able to have call-to-fire capability," Deacon said. "This means there will be someone on the ground talking to the aircraft identifying the area to be targeted. Then the Mi-35s can simply go destroy that target from the air."
In addition to this newly developed capability, the Afghan air force is already conducting numerous air missions without assistance from NATO advisors, including ground corps support, resupply, casualty evacuation, human remains, VIP battlefield movement and, with the use of Mi-35s specifically, show of force missions.
(Source: Capt. Anastasia Wasem, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, U.S. Air Force)