First aircraft delivered from the USA
The first four of 20 Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos for the Afghan Air Force were delivered on January 15. The US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody AFB, is training the initial cadre of Afghan pilots on the type.
The introduction of the A-29 via Sierra Nevada Corpora-tion (SNC) to train Afghan Air Force pilots in the skills of close air support (CAS) suffered significant delays when the rival bidder, Beechcraft, took the decision to the federal court. After months of wrangling, the A-29 came out on top. With US forces fighting two very different wars in 2007 against insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US Air Force began to focus on various projects involving irregular warfare, out of which was born the Air Warfare Tiger Team. This was a USAF-wide initiative that went to all the combatant commands look-ing to identify their requirements in the insurgency arena.
Out of this program emerged requirements such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), which was partly met by the Beechcraft MC-12W; other requirements included light airlift, leading to the PZL C-145A Skytruck that is now flown by the Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center (AF-SOAWC). The light airlift category also includes the Cessna 208 Caravan, a type that makes sound financial sense for countries that cannot afford to fly an air-craft as large as the C-130 Hercules but still need an airlift capability to fly out of austere airfields.
A second program was focused on light attack, designated O/A-X or Observer Attack Platform. The Tiger Team now looked around to see what was required in terms of sensors, endurance, weapons and other desired items, such as a data-link.
While the Tiger Team was running the irregular warfare concept, Air Combat Command (ACC) was working on a similar project titled Light Attack/Armed Re-connaissance (LAAR). The Tiger Team aligned the two projects to create an O/A-X enabler concept at ACC, which now reflected an Air Forces Central Com-mand (AFCENT) requirement for a Light Air Support program. The Tiger Team fed in the requirements and capabilities from both teams to a single program. However, with the USAF operating large numbers of A-10s, F-15s and F-16s that already have a significant air-to-ground attack capability it was obvious from an early stage that the airframe numbers required would not be significant in the long run. However, there remained a requirement for a LAAR squadron to serve in an air advisory capacity; very similar to the 81st Fighter Squadron role today.
While these programs were running there were other projects that would have an impact on the LAAR and LAS programs. For instance, the US Navy and Air Force were jointly working on ‘Imminent Fury’, a light attack program to support forces in Afghanistan. A concept of leasing four A-29s and deploying to Af-ghanistan for a combat demonstration was developed, though this was not funded and fell by the wayside while the LAAR and LAS programs progressed.
The aircraft were now to be solely Air Force owned, with 12 primary assigned aircraft (PAA) and another three for maintenance training. The vision was that the Air Force would serve as advisors to countries that wanted the same capa-bilities as the planned LAAR squadron. The first customer was Afghanistan.
Eventually the LAAR program was defunded since Congress decided there wasn’t a sufficient requirement for an air advisory squadron. However, as the LAS squadron is a combatant command vetted requirement and is run using the Afghanistan Security Force Fund (ASFF), it utilizes an entirely different funding stream and was allowed to continue.
In the end, there was only a requirement for 20 aircraft for the Afghan Air Force. The award for this contract was given in December 2011 but was pro-tested by Hawker Beechcraft through the Judge Advocates Office (JAO).
Eventually the decision was made to re-bid the whole contract. According to a senior officer in the Tiger Team this led to some turmoil: the Air Force had to reassign the LAS team as well as bring in a whole new team to conduct the bid-ding process all over again. Although the process was shortened it still took an additional 18 months.
The full version of Combat Aircraft’s coverage of the 81st FS appeared in our July 2015 issue, available here: