Last week, during an official visit to India, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, asked the Indian government to step up its military aid to Afghanistan, particularly in the field of combat aviation, according to local media reports.
In December 2015, India transferred three Mi-25 (Mi-24D) helicopter gunships to the Afghan Air Force (AAF), marking the first time that New Delhi has transferred lethal military equipment to Kabul. The Mi-25 is an upgraded variant of the Russian-made Mi-24 attack/transport helicopter.
“The Afghans have asked for more of these helicopters. There is an immediate need for more. When these aircraft come in, they immediately get into the fight,” Nicholson said during press conference on August 10.
“We are building the Afghan Air Force as a critical component of security. That is built on several airframes. Some are older Russian models, integrating newer ones. We need more aircraft, and we are looking at how we can meet that need,” he added.
The AAF is currently operating five heavily armored older Mi-35 supplied by the Czech Republic in 2008, but they are rarely operational. The Mi-25s are meant to replace the AAF’s aging fleet of Mi-35s. As I explained in November 2015 (See: “Will India Deliver Attack Helicopters to Afghanistan?”):
The Mi-25 is a close-air support aircraft armed with a YakB four-barrelled, 12.7mm, built-in, flexibly mounted machine gun, as well as rocket and grenade launchers. It can be deployed against ground troops including armored and slow moving air targets. It can also serve as a low-capacity troop transport (up to eight paratroopers), and be used for medical evacuation missions.
The primary reason for the general’s push for more Indian military assistance is that Afghanistan is slowly running out of Russian spare parts for the AAF’s fleet of Russian-made attack helicopters due to Western sanctions against Russia.
“The Afghan air force needs to expand. We are concerned about making it sustainable, so that they can maintain the aircraft, get their parts in time…,” Nicholson said. “Due to sanctions on Russia, it’s difficult to acquire supplies of spare parts for Russian military platforms, because much of the money is given to Afghanistan by donors who have sanctions against Russia in place.”
As I noted elsewhere (See: “Russia to Sell Modern Attack Helicopters to Afghanistan”), Russia and Afghanistan are also negotiating the purchase of an unknown number of Mi-35 (likely the M or “Hind E” variant) helicopter gunships.
The Indian government has not officially responded to the general’s request so far.