MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The first of 20 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft arrived here Sept. 26, in preparation for the Afghanistan pilot and maintenance training mission.
The A-29 is a light air support training aircraft that will be used to train 30 Afghan pilots and 90 Afghan maintainers as part of a requirement from the International Security Assistance Force to conduct training outside of Afghanistan.
"This is a very unique program, it's a great opportunity and it's definitely a great day for Moody Air Force Base," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Hogan, Afghan A-29 Light Air Support training unit commander. "This aircraft is perfect for the mission; it's going to be a great opportunity for us to interact with the Afghans. We will be teaching them, but we will be learning from them as well."
The need for the A-29 comes as the current Afghan Air Force LAS aircraft, the Mi-35 attack helicopter, reaches the end of its service life in January 2016.
"Specifically the mission that we are going to replace is the Mi-35 Helicopter, which is an attack helicopter, so they cover some of the same missions," Hogan said. "But really this aircraft is a monumental leap in capabilities for the Afghan Air Force. It will allow us to do some overlap of those [Mi-35] missions and will do a lot better; it will also expand some other missions, which they currently cannot execute.
During the unveiling ceremony held the day prior to the arrival, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John McMullen, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force- Afghanistan commander Air, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan deputy commander, also spoke about Afghanistan's need for the aircraft.
"Clearly the biggest gap in the Afghan Air Force is the ability to deliver fire from the air to the enemy on the ground," McMullen said. "The missing piece that is vital to the [Afghan National Security Force] success is an air to ground platform that can drop precision weapons, that has the speed and the range to [reach] out to all of Afghanistan, and that platform is the A-29. It's the perfect aircraft for the terrain in Afghanistan, it's the perfect aircraft for the conflict in Afghanistan, and it's the perfect aircraft for the Afghanistan Air Force."
The United States frequently hosts aircraft training to international students from different countries such as Norway, Poland, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Iraq on the F-16. The U.S. also provides Afghan students flying training in other established programs at bases in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Eight of the 10 Afghan students in the first training class at Moody have previously earned their wings through U.S. Air Force pilot training.
"The Air Force trains international students, thousands of them, every day," Hogan said. "The pilots we are getting are just another product that we have produced over the years. We have the procedures and policies in place to ensure that the mission is executed safely. They are not new pilots; they are very experienced and we will always be flying in the aircraft with them."
Following the training, all 20 aircraft will be provided to the Afghan Air Force and will provide air-to-ground and aerial reconnaissance capabilities to support Afghanistan's counterinsurgency operations and airborne self-defense for their government and citizens.
"As General McMullen said, the Afghan Air Force very much needs the A-29," said Afghan Air Force Maj. Gen. Abdul Wahab Wardak, Afghan Air Force commander, during the A-29 unveiling ceremony in Jacksonville, Fla. "Right now we do not have any type of aircraft that can guard the troops and provide the support. Thank you to everyone that has worked this program. And our friendship will continue to grow and be strong into the future."