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Afghanistan Seeks Array of Military Upgrades, Support

Jan. 7, 2014 - 09:22PM   |  
By DAVID PUGLIESE   |   Comments
Afghan soldiers test-fire the Russian-designed D30 howitzer. The guns have been acquired from several countries.
Afghan soldiers test-fire the Russian-designed D30 howitzer. The guns have been acquired from several countries. (Agence France-Presse)
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Building the Force: Afghan soldiers test-fire the Russian-designed D30 howitzer. The guns have been acquired from several countries. / Agence France-Presse

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KABUL — Afghanistan’s military seeks more aircraft and improved intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance equipment, and hopes to purchase main battle tanks for future operations.

Afghan security forces are equipped with US and former Soviet weapon systems, and although they have developed a wish list of future procurements, they still rely on financial support or donated equipment.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai traveled to India in December to request attack helicopters, artillery and main battle tanks.

In October, Afghanistan’s fledgling Air Force received two C-130 transport aircraft from the US, noted Lt. Gen. Mohammad Akram, the vice chief of the General Staff of the Afghan National Army (ANA).

“We are waiting for two others,” he said through an interpreter. “We have also promises with regard to helicopters to be provided to Afghanistan by the US.”

Akram said the Afghan military requires heavy artillery and other equipment.

“We need IED detectors,” he explained. “We need to improve intelligence [equipment].”

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is looking at providing additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment to the ANA over the next year. Included are 25 rapid aerostat initial deployment (RAID) towers equipped with full-motion video electro-optical/infrared sensors. Those aerostat systems would be used to monitor insurgent movements and activities around ANA bases.

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2014 budget request includes $26.1 million to build four aerostat sites for the ANA as well as acquire the 25 RAID towers.

Akram said Afghanistan’s economy is not strong enough to finance such purchases, so international support for equipment acquisitions will be needed for the foreseeable future.

Karzai traveled to India on Dec. 12 for a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in an effort to drum up some of that support. Karzai acknowledged in a Dec. 13 interview with New Delhi Television that India is reluctant to supply heavy weaponry such as attack helicopters and tanks. India has concerns that such firepower could fall into the hands of insurgents.

“We will leave it up to India to see whether India can support us or not,” he said during the interview.

On Dec. 11, various news media outlets in India also reported that the government approved the delivery of two Cheetah utility helicopters to Afghanistan. The aircraft, from Hindustan Aeronautics, will be delivered by the end of January. The new aircraft will be used for reconnaissance by the Afghan Air Force and are designed to operate in high altitude and hot conditions, making it ideal for missions in mountainous areas.

The Indian military also plans to train about 1,000 Afghan personnel over the next year at various locations in India.

Karzai said he would like India to send military instructors to Afghanistan’s main training facility in Kabul. Such training is being provided by ISAF.

The Afghan government is also interested in seeking Indian and Russian help to refurbish and operate a maintenance and spare-parts facility near Kabul to support its Soviet-era tanks and helicopters.

Maj. Gen. Afzal Aman, head of operations in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense, also cited the need for further equipment for the country’s Air Force. Both rotary and fixed-wing transport aircraft are required.

“We have very good airfields in the entire country, as well as we have good pilots already under training,” he said through an interpreter.

Many of the equipment purchases have been financed or coordinated by the US government.

For instance, in 2009 work began to supply the Afghan National Army with Russian-designed D30 howitzers. Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, in conjunction with the multinational Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, was involved in the acquisition of those 122mm guns.

Some of the D30s were acquired from the Ukraine, others were donated by Bosnia-Herzegovina and still others were left in Afghanistan by former Soviet forces.

The Army is also receiving the Textron-built Commando Select vehicle for its mobile strike force units. The ANA will eventually operate more than 500 of the four-wheel-drive armored vehicles, paid for by the US.

British Army Maj. Anthony Pearce, program manager for the Mobile Strike Force in Kabul, said the Textron vehicle was selected for its mobility and ease of maintenance.

“The platform [the ANA] got is effective; it’s got firepower and it’s got great communications systems,” he said. “So we’re giving them a really impressive capability.”

Pearce said the vehicle, derived from Textron’s M1117 armored security vehicle, performed well in Iraq so, “I think it was a natural step to bring it across to here.”

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