Australia will help support the Afghan Air Force’s (AAF’s) growing fleet of Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk multirole helicopters, Defence Minister Marise Payne announced during the 11–12 July NATO Leaders’ Summit in Brussels.
Canberra will provide “around 20 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel, including aviation advisers and force protection, who will help Afghanistan develop its Black Hawk capability,” said Payne in a statement, adding that this will be managed within Australia’s overall commitment of about 300 ADF personnel to the country.
“Australia is one of only a few nations in the international coalition currently flying Black Hawks and we will be able to provide qualified personnel to support the introduction of this important platform. The Black Hawks are a critical battlefield enabler that will provide the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces with increased air mobility and response capabilities for ground forces,” added Payne.
According to the minister, Australia will also continue to fund the sustainment of Afghanistan’s current fleet of Mi-17 helicopters as it transitions to the Black Hawk through the Afghan National Army Trust Fund.
The announcement follows a report by the Lead Inspector General at the Pentagon for the United States’ ‘Freedom’s Sentinel’ operation in Afghanistan stating that the AAF’s ongoing transition from the Russian-built Mil Mi-17 ‘Hip’ helicopter to the Black Hawk “presents several challenges that have yet to be fully addressed”.
“Black Hawks do not have the lift capacity of Mi-17s. They are unable to accommodate some of the larger cargo items the Mi-17s can carry and, in general, it takes almost two Black Hawks to carry the load of a single Mi-17”, said the inspector general in his quarterly report to US Congress covering 1 January to 31 March.
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