The 81st Fighter Squadron, a geographically separated unit assigned to the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, graduated its last class of Afghan A-29 Super Tucano student pilots on Nov. 13 at Moody AFB. The class was the last Afghan air force class to train at the 81st FS in a program spanning five years and graduating more than 30 student pilots and 70 maintenance technicians. The class of Afghan pilots executed a 13-month syllabus in less than a year, completing a course that included night-vision training, low-level flight and employing precision-guided munitions. The success of this class — and the A-29 program — is a direct reflection of the training and support provided by the U.S. and Brazilian Air Force air advisors and instructors at the 81st FS. For the Afghan air force, it will be Afghan instructors who lead the next phase of the A-29 program as it transitions to their home country.
“The 81st truly built this program from the ground up – developing both the (tactics, techniques and procedures) and the syllabus, and then delivering full-spectrum training that not only produced combat-ready attack pilots, but also a mindset that prevents civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible,” said Kelli Seybolt, deputy under secretary of the Air Force for international affairs. “This group was one of the strongest classes we had in this program, which is a fitting way to conclude it. They took a year out of their lives – away from their families and colleagues – and dedicated it to the future success of the Afghan air force. Now, thanks to that dedication they are fully capable of executing operations independently or in support of ground forces anywhere in Afghanistan. The 81st (FS) established the type of strong rapport with their counterparts that is key to good air advising.
In 2011, the Super Tucano was declared the winner of the US Light Air Support contract competition over the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6B Texan II. The contract was cancelled in 2012 citing Hawker Beechcraft’s appeal when its proposal was disqualified during the procurement process, but rewon in 2013. Twenty of these light attack aircraft were purchased for the Afghan Air Force. The first four aircraft arrived in Afghanistan in January 2016, with a further four due before the end of 2016. Combat-ready Afghan A-29 pilots graduated from training at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, and returned to Afghanistan to represent the first of 30 pilots trained by the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody AFB. A fleet of 20 A-29s will be in place by 2018, according to a senior U.S. defense official. The Pentagon purchased the Super Tucanos in a $427 million contract with Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer, with the aircraft produced at Embraer’s facility on the grounds of Jacksonville International Airport in Jacksonville, Florida.
The first four aircraft arrived at Hamid Karzai International Airport on 15 January 2016. In 2017, the Afghan Air Force conducted roughly 2,000 airstrike sorties, about 40 a week. The AAF had a record high in October with more than 80 missions in a single week. By March 2018, the AAF had 12 A-29s in service. On 22 March 2018, the Afghan Air Force deployed a GBU-58 Paveway II bomb from an A-29 Super Tucano in combat, marking the first time the Afghan military has dropped a laser-guided weapon against the Taliban. The Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano or A-29, is a Brazilian turboprop light attack aircraft designed and built by Embraer as a development of the Embraer EMB 312 Tucano. The A-29 Super Tucano carries a wide variety of weapons, including precision-guided munitions, and was designed to be a low-cost system operated in low-threat environments. Embraer has set up a production line in the United States in conjunction with Sierra Nevada Corporation for the manufacture of A-29s to many export customers.