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December 21 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - December 21, 2010

          COL. DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations): Good evening in Afghanistan.  I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room Air Force Brigadier General David Allvin -- or I'm sorry, Allvin -- (changes pronunciation) -- the commanding general for NATO Air Training Command - Afghanistan and the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing.  

         General Allvin oversees the training and development of the Afghan Air Force, and he assumed his post in September of this year. This is the first time he has spoken to us in this format, and he joins us today from the NTM-A headquarters in Kabul.  The general will make some opening remarks and then will take your questions. 

         With that, sir, I'll turn it over to you. 

         GEN. ALLVIN:  Well, thanks very much, Dave, for that introduction.  And for the folks at the Pentagon Press Corps, thank you very much, and good evening from Kabul.  I'm glad to have this opportunity this evening to speak to you about NATO Air Training Command - Afghanistan, and specifically about the Afghan Air Force. 

         My command consists of the United States plus nine other partnering nations, and our mission is very simply to set the conditions for a professional, fully independent and self-sustaining, operationally capable Afghan Air Force that can meet the security needs of the Afghan national security forces, the Afghan government, today and tomorrow. 

         The Afghan Air Force is currently a work in process, currently have 4,000 strong in the Afghan Air Force, and we're building to 8,000.  We have 400 -- I'm sorry, we have 40 -- sorry -- 56 aircraft in the Afghan Air Force inventory, building to 146.  The Afghan Air Force inventory primarily consists of rotary wing assets, including the Mi-17, which is a medium-lift helicopter, and the Mi-35, which is a close air support asset. 

         In addition, the C-27 is a medium-lift twin engine turboprop fixed-wing aircraft, and that makes up the bulk of the inventory, along with the Mi-17 and the Mi-35.  As I mentioned, we have gone from 56 now, moving to 146 at the end state. 

         We're also located primarily in three wings advising the Afghan Air Force.  The first wing is the Kabul air wing, and that is the most mature of the Afghan Air Force's wings, and it's also the largest. The second is Kandahar air wing, and that is growing, but it is starting to become mission capable.  They have five Mi-17s down there now, and we're going to move some more down there in the spring.  In the summer, we'll also move some C-27s down there as more come off the production line.  The third wing is Shindand air base, and it's unique for a couple of reasons.  First of all, Shindand is going to be the only base that is a runway belonging to the Afghan National Security Forces alone. As you may know, Kabul and Kandahar share the runway with the international airport. 

         The other reason why Shindand is unique is because it is going to be the home to the Afghan Air Force training center.  This is where all the rotary wing and fixed-wing training of the air crews will take place.  And this is very important because this offers the capacity and capability for the Afghans to sustain their air force by having organic pilot training capability. 

         Now, building an air force does take time.  It takes longer than ground forces, in many cases, because of the increased technical requirements, meaning increased educational requirements, and if you're in the flying business, it also means having some English comprehension level, because English is the global common language of airmen.  So this is an enduring commitment we have with our Afghan partners to build an Afghan Air Force in this mission. 

         But just because it's a long road doesn't mean that they aren't actually delivering and significant progress isn't being made.  As a matter of fact, one of the more elite units, the Presidential Airlift Squadron, has made some tremendous progress.  In fact, they've come so far that, at the current pace, they're on track to take over the lead for all of the core capabilities for that squadron by this spring. 

        And that is -- considering that this is a high visibility, as you can imagine, complex, and a no-fail mission, that speaks volumes for how the Presidential Airlift Squadron has advanced. 

         Just a quick anecdote:  Last week, General Petraeus and President Karzai were up north doing a battlefield circulation, and that entire operation was run by the Afghan Air Force and the Presidential Airlift Squadron.  It was a seven-ship formation, very complex, and all the trappings of a complicated mission, including low visibility, high winds, very fluid changes.  But through it all, the Afghan Air Force performed in a professional and precise manner and executed the mission very well.  So this is the sort of progress that we see in that area and we look to expand throughout the rest of the Afghan Air Force as we progress. 

         Before I take your questions, I just want to offer one final thought.  The Afghan Air Force is -- as I just related to you, is still relatively small.  And of course, as you compare it to the awesome air power that the coalition brings to Afghanistan, it really pales in comparison numbers-wise.  But I would offer that the Afghan Air Force is doing something today that no other air force in the world can do, and that is directly enhancing the legitimacy of the Afghan government.  Whether that be through saving lives in flood- relief operations, delivering backpacks to school children, or delivering and retrieving ballots in support of the parliamentary elections, when that aircraft has an Afghan tail flash on it and it's operated by Afghans, that has a positive impact on the public's perception of their government.  Now, the coalition does these sort of operations all the time, and we do them very, very well.  But I've got to believe it's got a little more impact when the Afghan people see it's one of their own doing those missions. 

         So with that, I'd be happy to take any questions you have. 

         COL. LAPAN:  Lalit. 

         Q:  Yes, this is Lalit Jha, from Pajhwok Afghan -- this is Lalit Jha, from Pajhwok Afghan News. 

         Can you give us a sense of what the air force would look like in 2014, when the transition would be complete? 

         GEN. ALLVIN:  Yes, sir.  If I understood the question correctly: What will the air force look like in 2014 when the transition is complete?  As you probably noticed from your slide deck -- I believe it's the third one; the second or third one -- it shows the actual Afghan Air Force build.  And it does continue on beyond 2014, but the vast majority of the aircraft will be delivered by 2014. 

         And what the air force will look like at that point -- will still be largely an airlift force, with 56 Mi-17 rotary-wing assets.  We will still have the nine Mi-35 assets that we have for the Afghan Air Force.  The Afghan Air Force will also have 20 of the C-27s.  By that time, there will also be six rotary-wing trainers at Shindand, six fixed-wing trainers at Shindand; as well as various locations that will have the light-lift capability, which is a small passenger sort of aircraft that can also carry some ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] capability.  There will also be other close air support assets, enabled to support the counterinsurgency fight in support of the Afghan National Army.  So the vast majority of the roughly 146 that's envisioned will have been delivered by the 2014-2015 timeline. 

         Q:  General, this is Joe Tabet, with Al Hurra. 

         As you might know, that the nature of Afghanistan is making the counterinsurgency operations kind of difficult.  Are you considering providing the Afghan Air Force in the future, like, combat helicopters, for example? 

         GEN. ALLVIN:  Well, as a matter of fact, the Mi-35 is a fairly capable combat helicopter with close air support.  We're also considering having some armament capability on our Mi-17s.  We believe that with this close air support capability of a fixed-wing close air support aircraft, along with the rotary-wing close air support aircraft, this is very good in supporting the Afghan National Army in the counterinsurgency fight.  So that is the vision, yes. 

         Q:  Yeah, again, just to follow up, President Karzai expressed lately that Afghanistan might need fighter jets. 

        So, what's your -- what do you think about it? 

         GEN. ALLVIN:  Well, with respect to the fighter jets or those sort of things into the future, those are strategic decisions that will be -- have to be made by the Afghans in the long term.  What we have envisioned in our plan, we have envisioned an air force that can support the counterinsurgency fight, and that's why this is a phased approach that has the capability to airlift, battlefield mobility, in addition to close air support which can support the counterinsurgency fight. 

         Now, as we look at investing in the Afghan Air Force, there are several things we look at.  Obviously we look at, we have to have a capable weapons system.  And we certainly do have that with the -- with what we've envisioned for the Afghan Air Force.  But we also have to look at sustainability and affordability, because, you know, we're also stewards of the American taxpayers' dollars, and we have to be very responsible with the way that we invest those dollars.  And so this allows us to have a capable, sustainable, and affordable capability that will support the Afghan ground forces.  Any decisions beyond that are certainly strategic decisions for the Afghans, but our vision is absolutely to support the counterinsurgency fight. 

         Q:  General, Otto Kreisher with National Journal.  Your chart shows 16 fixed-wing CAS [close air support] aircraft out in the future.  Are you looking at something like the Tucano or, you know, a turbo jet or turboprop airplane, rather, to fill that mission? 

         GEN. ALLVIN:  Currently the request for proposals is out.  So I wouldn't -- I certainly wouldn't want to venture to say one type -- one particular model or make or another, because that's still an open source selection.  But we are looking toward a fixed-wing, primarily a turboprop capability for that CAS, because that offers you obviously, as you know, loiter time, et cetera; it allows you to service different targets.  So it -- we are envisioning a fixed-wing turboprop capability.  Yes, sir. 

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