Ending the combat involvement of nations including the UK and the USA in Afghanistan's fight against the Taliban will require the nation to use the limited resources available to it, despite questions currently facing two of its key equipment areas.
"On air support, including rotary, there is a plan to provide basic air capability to the Afghans through the Afghan air force," UK defence secretary Philip Hammond told a House of Commons Defence Committee hearing on 23 January.
"But it would be nothing like the level of air capability that the ISAF [NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] forces have. That will require them to adapt their method of operations to the level of enablers that are available for them."
Hammond gave evidence to the committee days after discussing Afghanistan's nascent defence capabilities during a 19 January meeting with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in London.
The US Air Force could withdraw funding support for Afghan air force C-27A transports
Flightglobal's World Air Forces directory for 2013 lists Kabul's armed forces as having a combined 98 aircraft in active use at the end of 2012, with this total including a combined 31 Alenia Aermacchi C-27A (G222) and Cessna 208 Caravan fixed-wing transports. Rotorcraft operated by the Afghan National Army Air Corps include 67 Bell UH-1H and Mil Mi-8/17-series transports, plus Mi-35 assault helicopters and MD530 trainers.
Recent reports suggest the US Air Force may terminate a deal to support Afghanistan's refurbished C-27As from later this year, with Washington believed to be promoting the introduction of second-hand Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules to equip the Afghan National Security Forces instead.
The USAF has also slipped a decision to select a planned fleet of 20 light air support aircraft for the Afghan air force by several months from January 2013. This leaves little prospect for either the rival Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 or Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano to be in even limited use before coalition forces halt combat activities before the end of 2014.
Afghanistan's new generation of military pilots have so far participated in a largely non-combat role in the country, flying missions accompanied by other ISAF aircraft. NATO has previously spoken of the nation's air force as being able to offer an operationally independent capability only after 2017.
Source: Flight International