Afghanistan’s premier Special Operations Aviation unit is slotted to receive an unspecified number of CH-47 Chinooks from the U.S.
Established in 2005, the Special Mission Wing (SMW) is the cream of the crop of the AAF. With less than 1,000 pilots and ground personnel in its ranks, the unit was initially designed to support counter-narcotics operations. It quickly proved itself as a reliable and effective unit. As a consequence, its mission set increased to include counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The SMW, which can also operate in the night, is the main aviation support for the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF), but it also supports conventional Afghan units.
The main workhorse of the SMW is the Russian Mi-17. But now, the unit is set to improve its arsenal and capabilities by adding the heavy-lift Chinook. Although the Pentagon hasn’t specified which version of the Chinook the Afghans will be getting, it is not unreasonable to assume that the SMW will be receiving the MH-47, which is the Special Operations variant of the Chinook.
This is just one of the initiatives aimed at modernizing the Afghan Air Force (AAF). Last year, the Department of Defence (DoD) was greenlighted to provide 159 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to the AAF. A report, however, had questioned the merit behind the donation of the Blackhawks. In a study, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) had found that the AAF could put the UH-60s in little use given its chronic shortage of pilots and ground support personnel. As a consequence, the AAF will be receiving only one-third (53 helicopters) of the initial number.
The AAF also flies the MD-500F Cayuse Warrior, a light attack and scout helicopter ideal for counterinsurgency and close air support.
The rationale behind these donations of materiel is to make the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) less reliant on U.S. and Coalition aircraft for routine and combat operations. But that is something hard to achieve. Last year, American aircraft (manned and remotely piloted) dropped an astounding 7,423 bombs in support of Afghan and Coalition forces. (In 2018, that number was at 7,362.) It’s no secret that the ANSF has come to rely heavily on the Coalition for not only air support but also for essential Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) feeds that are critical to mission success. ISR is most often conducted by Remotely-Piloted Aircraft (RPA) before, during, and after an operation.