The Afghan Air Force (AAF) is being equipped with the MD-530 Cayuse Warrior helicopter. This rotary-wing aircraft is a variant of the “Little Bird” that is used extensively by U.S special operations aviation units. The MD-530, a cost-effective aircraft for the AAF, was initially used for pilot training by the AAF but is now being pressed into service as a close air support (CAS) platform.
With the significant troop reduction of Coalition forces in Afghanistan a serious capability gap developed for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). Now that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission has ended (December 2015) and the Resolute Support (RS) mission has begun (January 2016) there are only 9,800 U.S. military and a few thousand troops from other nations. Along with that huge personnel reduction is a corresponding decrease in air support provided by the Coalition nations to the Afghans. In addition, restrictive Rules of Engagement (RoE) have crippled the U.S. ability to attack the Taliban (although these have been relaxed in the last few weeks).
The Afghan Air Force is poorly postured to fill this air support capability gap. One serious short-fall is the lack of aircraft that can provide close air support for the Afghan security forces. In an attempt to fill this CAS gap, the U.S. has been providing the AAF with a few CAS options. These include the A-29 Super Tucano, outfitting existing Mi-17s helicopters with armament, and fielding armed MD-530 Cayuse Warrior helicopters.
The MD-530 provides a good bridging CAS platform until the A-29 plane is fully fielded (2018?). It is highly maneuverable, carries rockets and guns , and can perform a variety of missions. In addition, it is easier to maintain than some more complex helicopter gunships that are on the world market. The primary mission of the AAF MD-530 is pilot training, close air attack, and aerial escort (for the Mi17s).