An Afghan pilot conducts training in an A-29 Super Tucano over Kabul, Afghanistan, as part of the Train Advise and Assist Command's (TAAC-Air) mission on Dec. 20, 2018. Air Force photo by SrA. Maygan Straight.
The Air Force’s A-29 training program for the Afghan military has largely succeeded at producing capable pilots, according to a new watchdog report, even as the program plans to ditch its most effective feature: flying in the US.
“US-based aviation training has resulted in a quantifiable improvement in [Afghan Air Force] capabilities and improved professionalization of Afghan personnel,” the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a July 29 report.
The US Air Force trains Afghan Super Tucano pilots at Moody AFB, Ga. Once the pilots return to Afghanistan, American advisers coach them through further instruction and into combat operations. Moody instructors reached their goal of training 30 Afghan pilots and 90 ground staff, including a maintenance crew, in September 2018. SIGAR found the quality of training is improving as well: Afghan pilots are firing weapons more precisely in their home country, with 88 percent of laser-guided munitions landing within 1 meter of targets.
“The US Air Force’s A-29 program has proven to be a best practice for creating a comprehensive and consistent advisor model that effectively connects the U.S.-based training program with continued professional development and training in Afghanistan,” SIGAR stated.
A December 2018 Defense Department Inspector General report also found that Afghan pilots and aircrew trained in the US or other Western nations “progress to more advanced qualifications or higher leadership positions” faster than those who didn’t participate in the training.
“The A-29 program has proven that an incremental training approach that includes US Air Force and maintenance advisors for years to come is important to ensuring the Afghans increase their capability to perform their missions adequately,” SIGAR added.
However, the US is winding down its domestic piece of the program. Afghan pilots will no longer train at Moody starting in 2021, SIGAR said, when most training will move to Afghanistan. Sierra Nevada, which provides the Super Tucano with Embraer, in April received a nearly $43 million contract to continue teaching Afghan pilots through the end of 2024.
Training at Moody began in 2015, and the Air Force originally planned to end it in 2017. That deadline changed after the Afghan Air Force chose to receive six additional aircraft, which then increased the requirement for pilots. The AAF plans to field at least 26 A-29s in total.