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Afghanistan’s Newest Attack Helicopter a ‘Total Mess’?

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Asia Defense

Afghanistan’s Newest Attack Helicopter a ‘Total Mess’?

Afghanistan’s most decorated pilot is critical of U.S. efforts to help build the Afghan Air Force.

Afghanistan’s Newest Attack Helicopter a ‘Total Mess’?
Credit: U.S. Air Force/Perry Aston

Afghanistan’s most decorated pilot, Colonel Qalandar Shah Qalandari, recently questioned the usefulness of a new fleet of American-made light attack helicopter gunships, according to an interview published in the New York Times.

Among other things, Colonel Qalandari said that the new helicopters cannot reach areas where Taliban insurgents are normally operating, since the helicopter cannot cross the mountain ranges that surround Kabul, and that the aircraft is also dangerous to operate.

“It’s unsafe to fly, the engine is too weak, the tail rotor is defective and it’s not armored. If we go down after the enemy we’re going to have enemy return fire, which we can’t survive. If we go up higher, we can’t visually target the enemy,” he noted. “Even the guns are no good.”

The helicopter gunship in question is the MD-530 F “Cayuse Warrior” light attack helicopters, some of which were recently involved in a combat mission south of Jalalabad. One pilot talking to the New York Times, however, noted that the helicopters lack gun sights for its two .50 caliber machine guns, making targeting very difficult.

“This plane is a total mess,” Qalandari said. “To be honest, I don’t know why we have this plane here.” One MD-530F recently crashed east of Kabul. “When my pilots fly in this, only God and I know what they’re going through,” the colonel told the New York Times. “And I don’t know whether they’ll make it back.”

As I reported last months (See: “Afghan Air Force to Receive 5 More Attack Helicopters”), the Afghan Air Force (AAF) is converting five unarmed MH-6 “Little Bird” aircraft into “Cayuse Warrior” light attack gunships bringing up the AAF light attack helicopter fleet to 16. The five MD 530F will be retrofitted with a so-called Enhanced Mission Equipment Package (EMEP) at a facility in the United States and return to Afghanistan for the 2016 fighting season.

Next to the machine guns, the five helicopters will be armed with 70 mm rockets, which will increase the gunships stand-off range from about 1,900 meters to about 8,000 meters.

One of the principal reasons for rushing MD-530 Fs to the frontlines is delays in the delivery of 20 Brasilian-made Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucanos, aka A-29s, fixed-wing aircraft specifically designed for counter-insurgency operations. The first A-29 is slated to enter service at the end of 2015.

However, as I noted in a previous piece (See: “When Will the Afghan Air Force Be Ready to Fight the Taliban?”), only a handful of aircraft will arrive in 2016, with the majority being delivered in 2017 and 2018.