By Airman 1st Class Rose Gudex
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Afghan pilots and U.S. Air Force instructor pilots from the 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. came to Peterson AFB for several weeks in September for high-altitude training in the mountainous terrain.
Since the beginning of 2015, nine Afghan pilots have been training with the 81st FS to receive basic flight training and tactical training to learn to fly and fight in the A-29B Super Tucano, as well as learn how U.S. Air Force fighter squadrons operate in order to stand up their own squadron when they get back to Afghanistan.
The 81st FS is a stateside air advisor unit with both a stateside and deployed mission, said Lt. Col. Jeff Hogan, 81st FS commander. When the first group of Afghan pilots and maintainers finish their year-long training, the 81st FS will send Air Force pilots and maintainers to Afghanistan to provide advisory support.
“We’ll have a constant rotational presence in Afghanistan, mentoring them as they stand up this new capability,” he said.
The end result of this training is for Afghanistan to have its own fighter force that is capable of self-sustained combat operations. Hogan said the U.S. Air Force has been in the lead in mentoring the Afghan air force as it reestablishes itself after the 2001 invasion.
“The U.S. Air Force is uniquely postured with the capacity and the know-how to train our international partners,” Hogan said. “It’s a core (Air Education and Training Command) competency. We train thousands of international students a year, leveraging the best training in the world.”
The training the Afghan pilots get will help them stand up their own sustainable fighter squadron and be able to provide aerial fire support for their ground forces, Hogan said. To achieve that, the 81st FS is training them on four different missions, including close air attack, air interdiction, helicopter and convoy escort, and armed reconnaissance.
The aircraft the pilots trained on will go with them to Afghanistan when the pilots return home at the end of their training, said an 81st FS instructor pilot. It will replace the old Mi-35 attack helicopter that is nearing the end of its service life and doesn’t have the capability of the A-29.
The training so far has been at Moody Air Force Base, which has an elevation of around 200 feet and doesn’t compare to the high elevation in Afghanistan, he said. To get the pilots more realistic training, they came to Peterson.
As with any aircraft, performance is lower at a higher altitude, the instructor pilot said. The air is less dense, so aircraft take longer to accelerate and get off the ground. Peterson provides the high elevation and rising terrain for Afghan pilots to gain experience before going back to Afghanistan.
“Peterson afforded us some great facilities,” said Hogan. “We’re very thankful for the support we’ve received here. This is probably the place that most closely approximates the Afghan environment from a terrain and elevation perspective. We are very thankful for the warm welcome we have received.”
Hogan said the most satisfying part of this training is knowing they’re building another county’s air force and the pilots are going to do well because of the training they received.
“This airplane will allow us to start to step away from Afghanistan,” Hogan said. “When they can provide their own organic fires, support their own soldiers in the field and provide them with close air support – that will be the major turning point that allows the Afghans to be successful on the battlefield and ultimately take responsibility for their own future.”