Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Afghan air force might be coming to Georgia

If you’re a resident of Georgia there’s a strong chance that sometime next year an Afghan pilot trainee could be flying over your head.

Moody Air Force Base, Ga., was selected as the most likely option for the new Afghan pilot training location, the Air Force announced in a news release. Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., are also being considered as potential sites, but Moody is preferred because its facilities are “immediately available for the new occupants to move into” and is the cheapest option for the Air Force.

“The plan to implement this temporary stateside training option will ensure the Afghan Air Force receives the support and training necessary to safely and effectively employ a platform for conducting air interdiction and close air support operations within their country,” Air Force officials said.

The platform is the EMB-314 Super Tucano, made by the Brazilian defense company Embraer. The Air Force calls it the A-29. It is a small twin-seat turboprop aircraft that can carry a wide array of surveillance sensors and weapons, including air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles. It is designed to be easy to fly and hold up in high temperatures and rugged terrain. The Air Force bills it is as a “multi-role, fixed wing aircraft” capable of “indigenous air interdiction, close air support…and aerial reconnaissance.”

The aircraft will be delivered at whichever host base is chosen around September 2014, with the first Afghan trainees arriving in February 2014, officials said. The program calls for a “limited presence” at whichever host base is chosen through 2018.

The A-29 is a byproduct of the Light Air Support program that the Air Force began in 2008 to use in conjunction with Special Operations forces. The reasoning for the program was that counter-insurgency operations like those conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan required an aircraft that could engage ground targets rapidly at low cost. The Air Force set additional parameters that it would have to be able to fly one combat hour for $1,000.  In comparison, according to a report on the website, a combat-ready F-15E Strike Eagle costs around $44,000 to fly per hour.

The A-29 was first rolled out in the 1980s by Brazil and was quickly put to work in Central and South American countries fighting vicious drug wars within their own borders. The A-29’s selection for the LAS program has been contested by Embraer’s competitor, Beechcraft, but as of March 2013 Embraer had started production of the requested A-29s.

A contingent of 20 A-29’s will be delivered after the pilots have completed their training.

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