The Afghan air force’s MD-530F Cayuse Warrior scout-attack helicopter has been used in combat for the first time, helping security forces clear insurgents from three rural districts south of Jalalabad.
Armed with 50-calibre machine guns and ballistic armour protection, the helicopters operated alongside the service's Mil Mi-17 transport helicopters based at Kabul as part of Operation Iron Triangle on 11 August.
“This operation marks the first successful employment of armed MD-530 helicopters in support of Afghan national defense and security forces as they continue clearing the districts of Khogyani, Sherzad and Hisarak of insurgents,” says Train Advise Assist Command-East, a multinational military unit supporting NATO's Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
This Afghan Air Force MD-530 pictured 11 August flying over Forward Operating Base Connelly in Nangarhar province was supporting of Operation Iron Triangle.
Cayuse Warrior is a weaponised derivative of MD Helicopters’ high-speed, high-altitude commercial MD-530F, which the Afghan military has been operating since 2011 for basic rotary-wing training. The gunship is known locally as “Jengi,” which translates to “Warrior,” according to the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing in Kabul, which shared photos of the operation on its social media account.
“As a model 530F gunship with this particular mission configuration, in service with this particular defence force, Operation Iron Triangle marks the first combat engagements for these aircraft,” says MD Helicopters. “However, aircraft with this specific type certification (369FF) have actively supported combat operations in a number of different environments in service with foreign militaries around the globe.”
Under a $36 million contract awarded by the US Army last September, MD Helicopters was to boost the Afghan’s MD-530F inventory from five to 17 aircraft, and a $44 million contract modification awarded a month later covered the upgrade of the entire fleet to the Cayuse Warrior configuration.
MD Helicopters says the first helicopters were delivered from its production plant in Mesa, Arizona, to Afghanistan in March. The remaining five Afghan training helicopters will be converted at Mesa in the coming months for delivery in early 2016.
Last month, company received a further $13 million foreign military sales contract from Afghanistan to integrate M260 rocket launchers and fixed-forward weapon sights into the Cayuse Warrior mission package. MD Helicopters says of the first 12 aircraft deliveries, one remains in the United States to “accelerate development of the enhanced mission equipment package kits”.
“These kits will include a fixed forward sighting system designed to improve the operational accuracy of both the HMPs and the new 70mm [2.75in] rockets,” says MD Helicopters. “The modification of the existing fleet of MD-530F Cayuse Warrior gunships will take place in-country beginning in early 2016.”