WASHINGTON ― The Afghan Air Force has introduced laser-guided precision munitions to its arsenal.
Since the May 22 induction, the number of laser-guided bombs has steadily increased as Afghan forces continue to target the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
“The recent addition of laser-guided bomb strike capability is huge for the Afghan Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Justin Williams, 438th Air Expeditionary Advisor Squadron commander. “Afghanistan did not have it last fighting season, and we are already seeing the crippling psychological effect it is having on the enemies of Afghanistan this season.”
Shifting security responsibility to local forces, Williams emphasized all the bombs are being built by Afghans. “The bombs are built by Afghan ammunitions specialists and loaded onto Afghan planes by Afghan maintainers,” he said. “This is one example of how the Afghan Air Force is assuming ownership across the board.”
In terms of limiting civilian casualties, laser-guided bombs deployed from the Afghan Air Force’s A-29 Super Tucanos do enable more precise targeting.
“The Taliban like to hide in towns and places where civilians are,” said an Afghan Air Force A-29 pilot. “The laser-guided bomb lets me strike those places without hurting the local people.”
The A-29 is a turboprop plane designed to operate in austere combat environments and land without needing a paved runway.
But are these advanced munitions actually making a difference in a war that has raged for nearly 17 years?
According to data from U.S. Air Forces Central Command, the U.S. Air Force dropped more bombs in the first quarter of 2018 than was used in the same time period in 2011, often considered the height of the war.
The command also says 1,186 munitions were expended by aircraft in January, February and March of this year. In 2011, during those same months, the military documented 1,083 weapons released. Those weapons releases are from both manned and unmanned aircraft.
As of May 11, 2018, Afghan A-29s have supported roughly 30 Afghan ground missions using precision munitions, dropping more than 50 laser-guided bombs on Taliban targets.
Despite an approximate 85 percent reduction to U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan since 2011, Army Col. Lisa Garcia, a spokeswoman for U.S. efforts in the country, insists that U.S. advisers “are seeing successes on the battlefield as a result of tactical air coordinators.”
Since switching to the laser-guided bomb, nearly 96 percent of strikes have been successful and have led to a 30 percent increase in ground force commanders’ desired effects on the battlefield, according to the U.S. Air Force
Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.