KABUL, Afghanistan --
As advisors in Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air the tagline of ‘we are working ourselves out of the job’ is often used. The Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucano maintainers are working to make that phrase a reality.
Recently, AAF A-29 maintenance leadership requested to take full responsibility for flight line maintenance operations from TAAC-Air advisors and contract maintenance.
“The AAF has been making great strides in their capability with the A-29,” said Maj. Dale Ellis, 440th Air Expeditionary Advisor Squadron maintenance operations officer. “Several of the flight and squadron level leaders approached advisors and stated that they felt they were ready for full responsibility on the flight line. “
The A-29 is used by the Afghan Air Force for aerial interdiction and close air attack. The first time the aircraft was used in combat by the AAF was April 2016. While training missions are flown with coalition partners, all combat operations in the A-29 are flown solely by AAF pilots.
While aircrews are operating on their own, maintenance teams were still relying on advisors and contract maintenance to lead in some maintenance functions.
The ratio for maintenance functions currently stands at 80 percent completed by contract maintenance, with 20 percent conducted by the AAF. The current vision of TAAC-Air is to have that percentage reversed by the year 2022.
“I do believe that they [AAF A-29 maintenance personnel] are progressing at a faster rate than we initially believed,” said Master Sgt. Jonathan Vickery, 440th AEAS maintenance advisor lead. “Our original plan was to increase responsibilities one day every six months.”
The AAF plans to utilize their more experienced and certified A-29 maintainers to train new personnel on skillsets such as avionics, aircraft munitions and crew chief responsibilities.
“This is a point in the program that we did not believe would be possible for another couple of years. However, they are ready and eager for the challenge,” said Vickery. “If they continue to have the motivation and initiative, the timeline can shrink, but there are too many factors at this time to give a date.”
Since the beginning of July the AAF have been responsible for three days of maintenance operations a week. Now AAF maintenance leadership is requesting the increased responsibility and control of a maintenance seven days a week.
According to TAAC-Air maintenance advisors, to build a qualified maintainer can take five to seven years. There are three levels of maintenance categories: level-three, level-two and level-one. Level-one maintainers are proficient in English literacy and can review the aircraft’s technical orders and are the most qualified of all the levels.
On July 27, 2017, eight members received their level-one certifications, being the first fully trained AAF maintainers on the A-29 Super Tucano. Of note, level-one qualified individuals are capable of training their fellow AAF maintainers minimizing the need for advisors.
“We want to be responsible for the combat missions and getting the pilots in the air,” said Senior Master Sgt. Alokozay, an AAF A-29 maintenance specialist. “We want to take control and bringing peace to our country.”
The need for the AAF to conduct maintenance on their own is vital to the mission. There have been instances of A-29s being grounded because of mechanical issues or battle damage in areas where coalition members are not located.
On several occasions, the AAF maintenance professionals were able to return Afghan aircraft back in the air, and move them to an area to receive extended maintenance without coalition or contract maintenance support.
After an A-29 was struck by small arms fire in May, AAF maintainers demonstrated their ability by quickly recovering the aircraft and returning it Kabul for extended maintenance.
“The damage caused a significant fuel leak and the pilot performed a safe emergency landing,” said Ellis. “An AAF maintenance team was sent to the location and performed Aircraft Battle Damage Repair to fix the fuel leak and fly the aircraft back to Kabul. Within two days the aircraft was safely back in Kabul and could be assessed by engineers for a permanent repair.”
The push for more responsibility coming from AAF maintenance leaders is a demonstration of the organization becoming a professional, capable and sustainable force.
“This drive from the AAF sends a powerful, positive message about their professionalism,” said Ellis. “It demonstrates a desire to take ownership of their operations and shows that these AAF leaders believe in their capabilities.”
“We are still here to support their efforts, and as their partners we know that this is a great step in many that must still be taken,” said Ellis. “This is momentum towards the AAF long range vision, this is Afghans taking action and it is quite amazing.”