Afghan AF Disarray Threatens Senate Funding OK

By Amy Butler, Jen DiMascio
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

The first of 20 Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft, A-29 Super Tucanos being built by Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer, is slated to arrive in the late fall of 2014; all 20 should be in place within 10 more months. But a request for the second 20 aircraft, costing $416.8 million, has hit this obstacle in the U.S. Senate. The request was included a list of items specifically needed to continue fighting in Afghanistan.

The A-29s are designed for close air support, light attack and basic intelligence-collection missions that will be especially crucial around the porous Pakistan border as coalition forces pull out of the region in the coming years, Wilsbach notes. With the first 20 aircraft alone, “We don't think it is out of the question to generate 300 A-29 sorties in a month,” he says, which would satisfy all of their anticipated close air support needs.

The Pentagon's own inspector general report questions the wisdom of buying 30 more Mi-17s and 18 Pilatus PC-12s for the counter-narcotics mission.

“We believe the purchase and delivery of the aircraft should be contingent on the [wing's] achievement of personnel and maintenance and logistics support milestones and indications that the [wing] has the capacity to execute its mission and operate and maintain its fleet,” the June report states. “Without an effective support structure, U.S.-funded [wing] aircraft could be left sitting on runways in Afghanistan, rather than supporting critical missions, resulting in waste of U.S. funds.”

Truncating the A-29 buy would be a boon for Beechcraft, which has vociferously but unsuccessfully protested the Super Tucano source selection by the U.S. Air Force. Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture wants to limit further Pentagon purchases of the A-29, hoping to sell the AT-6 to allies, arguably a tough position to take after the A-29 win.

“We are looking to limit that to the 20 because we believe a policy error was made,” Boisture told an Aviation Week editorial roundtable last month. “We know they didn't select the best aircraft, but we are over that.”

Boisture argues that providing Afghanistan with Russian helicopters and Brazilian A-29s not in the U.S. inventory “defies the logic and intent” of initiatives to supply partners with suitable equipment, and risks creating “orphan” fleets that cannot be employed or sustained by these partners, says Nicole Alexander, Boisture's spokeswoman. Further, he asserts that “long-term employment and sustainment costs cannot be accurately assessed in advance of fielding, since no U.S. infrastructure exists to support the orphan fleets.”

Beechcraft officials did not comment on the proposal to slice Super Tucano funding.

Meanwhile, four Lockheed Martin C-130Hs are to be delivered to the Afghan air force by next April. They will make up for the canceled C-27As.

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