Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Afghanistan orders 12 more MD530F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters for the 2016 fighting season

The Afghan Air Force (AAF) has placed an order for 12 more MD530F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters fitted with a so-called Enhanced Mission Equipment Package (EMEP) for the 2016 fighting season.

MD Helicopters already delivered 12 MD530F Cayuse Warrior aircraft to the AAF for the 2015 fighting season and has also converted five unarmed MH-6 Little Bird helicopters into MD530F light attack gunships, bringing the total number of Cayuse Warrior light attack aircraft in the AAF up to 16. (One helicopter was lost in a training incident.)

Should the helicopters be delivered within the next five months, the AAF will be able to enter the 2016 fighting season with a fleet of 28 MD 530F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters. However, in 2015 it took MD Helicopters around eight months to deliver the 12 helicopters after the contract was awarded, which could imply that the AAF will be without the additional aircraft for the most intense part of the fighting season during the summer. The press release notes that “MD Helicopters has demonstrated the ability to deliver fully integrated gunships to theater in less than 12 months,” perhaps indicating that it will take more than eight months for the helicopters to appear on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The helicopters are armed with machine guns and 70 mm rockets. In detail, according to MD Helicopters, the EMEP will include:

  • Rhode & Schwarz M3AR tactical radio communications solution
  •  Aviatech tactical communication antennas
  • DillonAero Mission Configurable Aircraft System (MCAS) and fixed-forward sighting system
  • Kinetic Defense ballistic armor panels
  • FN HMP400™ .50 caliber gun pods from FN Herstal
  • 2.75” rocket capability

“The MD530F has played an integral role in building the capabilities of the Afghan Air Force and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces since the first aircraft arrived in Shindand in 2011,” said Lynn Tilton, Chief Executive Officer for MD Helicopters. “In both training and combat configurations, the fleet has consistently maintained a mission launch rate of greater than 97 percent. This reliability – coupled with ease of operation, proven close air support and close air attack capabilities – stands as a testament to the legacy of this iconic airframe.”

However, as I previously reported (See: “Afghanistan’s Newest Attack Helicopter a ‘Total Mess’?”), AAF  pilots questioned the usefulness of the American-made light attack helicopter gunship during last year’s fighting season. “It’s unsafe to fly, the engine is too weak, the tail rotor is defective and it’s not armored. If we go down after the enemy we’re going to have enemy return fire, which we can’t survive. If we go up higher, we can’t visually target the enemy,” one of Afghanistan’s most decorated pilots, Colonel Qalandar Shah Qalandari noted. “Even the guns are no good.”

Indeed, the helicopters lack proper gun sights for their two .50 caliber machine guns, as I was able to personally witness during a battle that I describe in detail in this month’s The Diplomat Magazine. The helicopters periodically appeared in the sky over contested mountains, but had difficulties locating and attacking ISIS positions with their weapons.

As I noted previously, one of the principal reasons for rushing MD530Fs to the frontlines is delays in the delivery of 20 Brazilian-made Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucanos, aka A-29s, fixed-wing aircraft specifically designed for counter-insurgency operations. The first A-29 is slated to enter service at the end of 2015.

However, as I noted in a previous piece (See: “When Will the Afghan Air Force Be Ready to Fight the Taliban?”), only a handful of aircraft will arrive in 2016, with the majority being delivered in 2017 and 2018. By for The Diplomat

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