Small Wars Journal

Going Tactical: A New Strike Aircraft for the Afghan Air Force

Tue, 10/01/2013 - 8:45am

Going Tactical: A New Strike Aircraft for the Afghan Air Force

Kenn Boechler


President Obama set 2014 as the deadline for the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan.  The removal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan will give that country almost full responsibility for its own security.  The departure of U.S. and NATO forces to assist in the security of Afghanistan will certainly challenge the Afghani military. One such challenge will be fielding and maintaining a strike aircraft to combat ongoing and future insurgency.  The U.S. has foreseen this problem and has approved a contract for a Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft for the Afghan Air Force (AAF).  Once this aircraft is selected, American advisors will conduct a foreign internal defense (FID) mission in Afghanistan to train the AAF in the maintenance and use of their new platform.  In light of this future mission, the question necessarily follows: has the United States Air Force selected the most operationally capable strike aircraft for the future FID mission in Afghanistan?

Background and Significance

On 16 April 2012, the United States Air Force Material Command (AFMC) requested twenty Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft for the Afghan Air Force. The AFMC request specified a fixed-wing platform capable of advanced flight training, aerial reconnaissance, and light attack missions.[i] Furthermore, the Air Force requested funding for the logistics and maintenance support required to maintain this aircraft.   The specifications set forth for the LAS aircraft detail: a “single-engine, turbo-prop, tandem- and ejection-seat cockpit, pressurized aircraft with retractable, tricycle gear capable of operations from austere airfields with semi-improved (dirt, grass, gravel) landing surfaces.”[ii]  In December of 2011 the Air Force selected the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano as the winner of the LAS contract.[iii]  Shortly after announcing this decision, the Air Force set aside its contract with Sierra Nevada/Embraer, citing concerns with the selection process.[iv]

Once an LAS aircraft is selected, the USAF will be prepared to conduct a FID mission in Afghanistan.  According to the contract (FA8615-10-R-6048), either USAF or NATO air advisors will provide training to the AAF on the selected LAS airframe.  Furthermore, as per AFDD 2-7.1 Foreign Internal Defense, the USAF’s mission will be to train the host nation (Afghanistan) on the operation and employment of this aircraft in the defense of their country.  This assignment includes training the AAF on how to sustain maintenance and logistics for the provided aircraft.[v]  Therefore, airman from the U.S. and partner nations will be responsible for organizing, training, and equipping the AAF to operate the selected LAS aircraft. The significance of this is that the U.S. will purchase a light air support platform for Afghanistan and then train their airmen on how to operate and maintain the aircraft.  Therefore, it is crucial to establish that the most operationally capable aircraft for Afghanistan may be very different from what would be the most capable aircraft for the current U.S. mission in Afghanistan. 

Concerning the most appropriate LAS aircraft, certain boundaries will be established for the purpose of this research.  The AFMC contract specifies an aircraft built to some preconceived notion of what is the best aircraft (tandem ejections seats, tricycle gear, among other features).  This research will go beyond those contractual specifications in order to answer the question of what actually is the most operationally capable light air support aircraft for Afghanistan.  In order to make that judgment, the operational environment in Afghanistan will be closely examined. This will include an analysis of the terrain, the nature of the conflict, and the competence of the AAF in order to determine what capabilities are required of an LAS aircraft intended for employment in the Afghan environment.  Thus, this paper will define measures of merit based on desired effects rather than focus merely on technology.

Limitations and Assumptions

As a result of the scope and length of this paper, certain limitations will be imposed to keep the study focused.  The first is that the desired LAS aircraft must be a fixed wing propeller aircraft. This gives the study a manageable focus, and reflects the assumption that Afghanistan does not have the resources to operate a jet aircraft. Since this is an assessment of which aircraft is the most suitable, American and Afghani politics and acquisitions processes will not be considered.  Furthermore, due to the wide variety of potential aircraft for this mission, only three will be analyzed. Each aircraft represents a different type airframe. The Airbus AC-295 will be the first to be analyzed and will represent gunship model.  This aircraft is comparable to the Lockheed AC-130W the USAF currently operates.  Next, the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano will represent the tandem seat, high performance turboprop that the USAF contract specified. Finally, the Cessna AC-208B will be analyzed as an example of an inexpensive and simple strike platform. 

This paper will be further constrained by several assumptions.  It will be assumed that the selected aircraft will be produced with the specification and at the price listed by its manufactures.  The next assumption will be that the AAF will continue to fight a counterinsurgency (COIN) type war against either the Taliban or similarly equipped force. This means the LAS is not be intended for interstate conflict or for conflict with armed groups capable of fielding their own air-assets or advanced surface to air missile systems.  Finally, it will be assumed that for the next decade the state of the AAF and Afghanistan as a whole will remain relatively stable; i.e., no disintegration of the country, no rapid increase/decrease in revenue, no large amounts of military aid from another country, and so forth.


Close Air Support (CAS).  “Air action by fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and which require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces.”[vi]

Counterinsurgency (COIN). “Those military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency.”[vii]

Foreign Internal Defense (FID).  “Participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency.”[viii]

Information Surveillance and Reconaissance (ISR). “This is the synchronization and integration of platforms and sensors with the planning and direction, collection, processing and exploitation, analysis, and production and dissemination processes. These activities provide actionable intelligence, weather, environmental awareness, and prediction across all SOF command echelons.”[ix]

Preview of the Argument

This paper will argue that the Cessna AC-208B is the most operationally capable strike aircraft for the FID mission in Afghanistan.  In order to reach such a conclusion, the operational environment in Afghanistan will be analyzed. This includes an analysis of the terrain, conflict, and the capabilities of the AAF in order to determine what is needed in a strike aircraft.  Next, each of the three aircraft selected for evaluation (AC-295, A-29, AC-208B) will be analyzed in terms of how well they likely would perform the AAF’s tactical mission in Afghanistan and how practical they would be for a FID mission in Afghanistan.


To answer the question of whether the USAF has identified the most operationally capable light air support (LAS) aircraft for the future FID mission in Afghanistan, measures of merit for assessing such an aircraft will be established and those criteria will be used to evaluate the different platforms.  While the previously mentioned contract has stringent criteria the aircraft must meet, this paper will take a more contextual approach by analyzing the battlespace in Afghanistan and the AAF itself in order to determine what capabilities LAS aircraft actually require.  This will be followed by an analysis of how well the AC-208B, A-29, and AC-295 meet the established requirements. The analysis will show that the AC-208B is, in fact, the most operationally capable LAS aircraft for Afghanistan.

Defining Required Capabilities

In order to determine which aircraft is the most operationally capable for the LAS mission, the nature of the battlespace in Afghanistan must first be analyzed.  Next, the nature of the FID mission itself and the state of the AAF will dictate further requirements for a LAS platform. 

Afghanistan occupies over 650,000 miles of territory, roughly the size of Texas, with a terrain consisting mostly of rugged mountains.[x]  With only 42,000 kilometers of roads (eighty-fifth in the world), and only 12,000 km of those paved; airpower is imperative for efficient travel in Afghanistan.[xi]  The air transportation infrastructure in Afghanistan is not much better with only twenty-three of a mere fifty-one airfields paved.[xii]  Of these airfields the majority are under 2,500 feet in length, making the ability to take-off and land on short runways a necessity for any future aircraft acquisitions. Thus, the first measure of merit for a LAS aircraft is the ability to land on short and unpaved runways in order to maximize the number of airfields from which it can operate.

Concerning the next required operational capability, the context of the war in Afghanistan will be analyzed.  Current fighting in Afghanistan is not characterized by the clash of large armies; rather, it has all the attributes of a classic insurgency. The enemy is comprised of “a disparate assortment of tribal clans prone to waging a disparate assortment of warfare….”[xiii] Furthermore, the nature of the insurgency itself further incites and complicates the inter-tribal animosity.  An example is the Pashtuns, who share the closest ties with the Taliban.  The Duran Line artificially separates the Afghan Pashtuns from their brethren in Pakistan, thereby creating safe havens for rebel fighters.   This, coupled with the myriad of other races and religions scattered throughout the rugged terrain of Afghanistan, makes combating an insurgency in this country an especially arduous task.  The difficult terrain, coupled with the fact that the only 138,200 men compose the Afghan National Army, explains the need for a LAS aircraft as a force multiplier.[xiv]

The nature of the combat and the terrain in Afghanistan dictate how military operations are conducted.  For the most part, a light air support aircraft can be used in three ways: close air support (CAS), intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and precision strike of high value targets. For each of these mission sets, the capabilities that are required in a LAS aircraft will be defined.

One important strategy in fighting an insurgency involves maintaining a military/police presence close to the population.  With relatively small military and civilian police forces at hand, forward operating bases should be constructed in close proximity to villages and other population clusters.  Such small and scattered bases, however, can easily be overrun.  That, in turn, makes on the spot close air support an essential capability. An example is the Wanat outpost built by the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Korengal Valley.  On 13 July 2008, the Taliban massed and attempted to overrun the outpost, killing or wounding almost half of the base’s defenders.  Only when an Apache gunship arrived, more than an hour into the battle, was the Taliban’s offensive finally broken.[xv]  The Apaches conducted strafing runs as close to as thirty yards outside the perimeter of the base in order to push the opposing force back.[xvi]  This demonstrates the value of a strike aircraft in a COIN environment.

The Battle of Wanat exemplifies how insurgents fight.  With the exception of harassing fire (snipers, mortars, and so forth) and improvised explosive devices, insurgents prefer to mass their forces and attack smaller outposts. Their basic approach is to attack and then withdraw as quickly as possible. Since the Taliban has a fluid force and does not need to hold ground in the conventional sense, they will almost always practice the principle of economy of force when attacking.  As defined by Carl von Clausewitz, “economy of force,” involves massing only as much force as required against main efforts.[xvii] A strike aircraft can help the defending forces seize the initiative and make up for any numerical disadvantage.  Such was the case during the Greek civil war and the Huk insurgency in the Philippines in which airpower inflicted heavy casualties on insurgents whenever they attempted to mass forces.[xviii]

The above observations raise the question of what capabilities are required in a CAS platform intended for employment in a COIN environment. According to COIN theorist David Galula, a light attack aircraft needs to have great firepower and high endurance.[xix] A long loiter time and high weapons payload will allow the aircraft to provide more sustained combat support for fielded forces in contact.  Thus for the CAS mission, operational effectiveness of the LAS will be judged in terms of the loiter time and payload of the aircraft.

Another important mission for a LAS aircraft in Afghanistan involves ISR.  Since insurgents rely on stealth to survive, timely identification of the current position of insurgents is a center of gravity in a COIN fight.[xx] ISR provides a multitude of applications to the counterinsurgent.  Intelligence gathered can help find high value targets, supply routes, and serve as a reconnaissance element for ground forces. Finally, a LAS aircraft with ISR capability can be employed to locate massing enemy forces so they can be displaced before they become a problem.[xxi]  Therefore, ISR capability constitutes another requirement for a LAS platform.

A common mistake among COIN commanders is assuming their main objective should be a reflection of the conventional Clausewitzian strategy that war is won through the destruction of the enemy’s fielded forces.[xxii]  This, however, is not the way insurgencies are usually won.  Since the insurgent’s “fielded forces” often are composed of the ordinary civilians disenchanted with the established government, attacking them indiscriminately can cause collateral damage and thereby alienate their friends and family members who previously may not have been actively involved in the insurgency.  What is recommended instead is attacking key nodes in the leadership structure of the insurgency.  This includes the selective targeting of “leadership and critical operatives.”[xxiii]  Precision weapons, such as the Lockheed Martin HELLFIRE II missile, can be utilized to surgically neutralize targeted individuals, and limit collateral damage in the process.[xxiv]  Thus, the final functional requirement of the LAS aircraft is the capability to perform precision strike.

Now that the requirements for a LAS aircraft in Afghan environment have been specified, it is important to examine how the nature of the foreign internal defense mission and the state of the AAF impose constraints on possible platforms. First, it is necessary to establish that the FID mission focuses on training the host nation for internal security missions, not for state-on-state conflicts.[xxv]  Aircraft with air-to-air, stealth, or other advanced technologies are simply “overkill” for the AAF and are not relevant to the FID mission. As a result, any overly sophisticated aircraft for the LAS mission should not be pursued.

Afghanistan spends about 2 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), or $640 million, on its military.[xxvi]  This does not leave much money for buying new aircraft, maintaining airplanes or training aircrews.  Furthermore, the state of the Afghan Air Force still leaves much to be desired.  As of November 2011, in an evaluation of 2,800 airmen (roughly half of the force), 1,918 were cited as undertrained.[xxvii]  This demonstrates the lack of proficiency in training in the AAF.  Though aviation advisors could indeed raise the competence of the AAF, the general lack of training limits the kinds of aircraft the Afghanis can operate and maintain. Therefore, since Afghanistan’s economy and human infrastructure limit what can be operated and sustained, the AAF would best be served by an inexpensive and simple platform for the LAS mission.

The final limitation on an effective AAF LAS platform involves Afghanistan’s ability to acquire nonstandard items and parts.[xxviii] When looking at aircraft for a country like Afghanistan, sustainability is extremely important, and the more complex and hi-tech the aircraft is, the more difficult it is to maintain. Thus, ease of maintenance and operation is the final criteria for the proposed LAS aircraft.

The preceding analysis has considered the battlespace in Afghanistan, the state of the AAF, and criteria for determining the most operationally capable LAS aircraft for AAF use.  To recapitulate: the ideal light air support platform will be able to take-off from short, unimproved runways, loiter for extended periods of time, carry a large payload for extended support, contain an ISR suite, and be capable of precision strike.  Furthermore, this aircraft must be inexpensive and easy to maintain in order for it to be sustainable.

Airbus C-295


The first aircraft that will be analyzed for the LAS mission is the Airbus AC-295. The proposed AC-295 Gunship is an armed variant of the Airbus C-295, a proven twin engine tactical airlift with ninety-five already in service worldwide.[xxix]  The gunship variant will include both side and forward firing weapons. Once completed, the AC-295 will be similar to the Lockheed AC-130W gunships currently employed by American forces in Afghanistan.

In order to analyze the AC-295’s effectiveness as a LAS platform for Afghanistan, use will be made of the measures of merit discussed in the preceeding Defining Required Capabilities section. First, the performance and operational characteristics of the C-295 will be considered, followed by an analysis of how practical the aircraft is for the AAF to own and operate.  The C-295 has a length of 80ft 3in, and a wing span of 84ft 8in.  It has a maximum takeoff weight of 51,000 pounds and a max payload of 20,400 lbs. Two Pratt & Whitney PW-127G engines give this aircraft 2,645 sheer horse power (shp) and a max cruise speed of 260 knots.[xxx]  The AC-295 also has one of the longest cabins for its class at an impressive 41ft.  Furthermore, the cabin of this aircraft is modular, allowing the gunship upgrade to be “rolled off” to allow the AC-295 to be used for other missions.  These additional missions could include airlift given the AC-295’s ability to carry seventy-one infantry troops, fifty paratroopers, or five 88x108in pallets.  Finally, it could be used as a medical evacuation platform carrying twenty-four stretchers.[xxxi]  The ability of this impressive aircraft to execute a variety of missions makes it a smart investment for a smaller air force. This is because it would allow a financially-constrained government to purchase and maintain fewer aircraft.

As for the operational effectiveness of the AC-295 in Afghanistan, the performance characteristics and capabilities will be analyzed in light of the operational conditions prevailing there.  The first measure for the LAS mission is the ability of the aircraft to take-off and land on short runways (under 2,500ft).  The AC-295 can take-off from fields as short as 2,200ft and land at fields as short as 1,050ft.[xxxii] Furthermore, the landing gear are especially designed for operations on short, unpaved, and sometimes soft runways.[xxxiii]  Thus, the AC-295 is designed for landing in austere conditions and has the short take-off and landing abilities required in Afghanistan.

The next measures of merit are payload and loiter time.  An ATK Mk 44 30mm cannon could be mounted on the side of the aircraft, allowing it to give sustained fire to ground forces.[xxxiv]  This could be augmented by a payload of 800 kg of bombs and missiles that can be mounted on hardpoints on the wings.[xxxv] These can be equipped with weapons such as the HELLFIRE missile and 70 mm rockets.[xxxvi]  This payload would complement the precision strike role, especially the 30mm cannon and HELLFIRE missiles.   Thus, the AC-295 could meet the previous stated criteria for payload and precision strike.

When it comes to loiter time, the AC-295 clearly excels.  This aircraft has an endurance of eight hours at 15,000ft and two hours with a 600 nautical mile combat radius.[xxxvii]  This loiter time and range allows the aircraft to project sustained power across the country.  The long loiter time and ability of this aircraft to land at short, unimproved runways to refuel make this aircraft very suitable for the CAS mission.

The next requirement for an operationally capable LAS platform is ISR capability. The AC-295 has a day/night ISR suite that can provide full motion video to ground stations and other aircraft.[xxxviii]  In addition, the impressive ISR capability and communications systems allow this aircraft to also be utilized as a command and control platform for other assets, as well as for communications relay. [xxxix] This is an important feature because it allows the aircraft to be self-sufficient in many of its operations.  An example of this is the precision strike mission. Here a single aircraft can seek out a high valued target, confirm a decision to strike, and then employ its own munitions to destroy the target.

The weakness of this aircraft, ironically, comes as a result of its strengths.  Because of its size and capabilities, this is an expensive aircraft.  The average cost of an AC-295 is between $24 and $35 million, depending on the specific features of the aircraft.  Furthermore, this is without the ISR suite and armaments.[xl]  Though it meets all of the performance capabilities, the AC-295 severely fails the cost test.  This is because a single aircraft costs more than the entire annual Afghan military budget.

Unlike its cost, the price of maintenance for the AC-295 seems rather affordable. The Airbus C-295 platform has the lowest operating and maintenance costs in its category of aircraft, in part because it has been in service since 2001 and has performed well in a variety of climates conducting civil and military operations.[xli]  Since there are already aircraft in service with foreign nations, acquiring spare parts should not be too difficult and thus it could be practical for the Afghans to maintain this aircraft.

In summary, the AC-295 meets and exceeds all of the requirements for a LAS aircraft for the AAF with the exception of cost.  Unfortunately, this is the most important requirement for the aircraft.  Though failure to meet performance characteristics will limit an LAS aircraft to certain missions, failure to meet cost limits likely means the aircraft is incapable of being procured. Thus, this aircraft is impractical from a financial standpoint to perform the LAS mission for the AAF.

Embraer A-29 Super Tucano


The second aircraft to be analyzed for the LAS role in Afghanistan is the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano.  This aircraft is a single engine, low-winged, tandem seat aircraft.  The A-29 is 37ft 4in length with a wingspan of 36ft 6in.[xlii]  It is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6-68C turboprop engine providing 1600 shp.[xliii]  The Super Tucano has a max takeoff weight of 11,905 lbs, and is equipped with two ejection seats, an impressive safety feature that sets it apart from the other two aircraft being analyzed.[xliv]

One large selling point of the Super Tucano is its human interface systems.  The A-29 has an all glass cockpit (computer displays instead of round gauges) to help reduce the workload on the pilot.  Furthermore, the Super Tucano boasts a full Hands-On Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) system which allow the pilot to manipulate the aircraft’s systems in combat without letting go of either the throttle or the stick.[xlv] This feature enhances the pilot’s ability to control the aircraft and employ its systems in a dynamic environment.

The A-29, unlike the AC-295 has already been employed in combat. To this day, over 170 Super Tucano’s have been built.  This aircraft is used by nine nations for which it performs missions ranging from ISR to border security.[xlvi] This gives Embraer credibility in claiming their product is capable of fulfilling the LAS mission. To quantify the A-29’s impressive track record, its fleet has logged 180,000 hours plus 28,000 combat hours with zero combat losses.[xlvii]  Thus, the Super Tucano has proved itself as an effective aircraft for the LAS mission.

In order to assess the operational effectiveness of the Embraer A-29 for the AAF’s LAS mission, the measures of merit discussed earlier in the paper will be used. The first aspect of the Super Tucano that needs to be analyzed is its ability to operate out of Afghanistan’s current airfields.  The A-29 is equipped with heavy duty gear/tires made to provide capability on unimproved runways.[xlviii] This will allow the aircraft to access many of the unpaved runways in Afghanistan.  The next element of this requirement is the required take-off/landing distance of the aircraft. The A-29 requires 2,950ft to take-off and 2,820ft to land.[xlix]  This severely limits the aircraft by making it unable to land at 39 of the 52 airfields in Afghanistan.[l]  Thus, the Super Tucano’s ability to fulfill the LAS mission in Afghanistan is severely limited by its need for long runways.

The next aspect to be analyzed is the payload and loiter time of the Super Tucano.  The A-29 can carry a 3,420lb payload in over 130 configurations and has two internal .50 caliber machine guns.[li] This gives it the ability to provide sustained firepower to ground forces.  The large payload also means that the aircraft can attack multiple targets per sortie. Furthermore, the ability of it to carry HELLFIRE and other precision munitions fulfills the requirement for an LAS aircraft to have precision strike capabilities. As for the requirement for a reasonable loiter time, the A-29 has an endurance of up to 8.4 hours with external tanks.[lii]  Therefore, the heavy payload and long endurance time of the Super Tucano make it optimal for an LAS aircraft in Afghanistan.

Another crucial requirement of an LAS platform is its ability to conduct ISR missions. The super Tucano is equipped with an FLIR Brite Star II ISR sensor bulb.[liii] This advanced sensor platform gives the A-29 the capability to conduct advanced ISR missions.  The limited number of runways it can use, however, limits the effect of this high tech equipment.  Having to use a longer runway farther away burns more fuel in transit, meaning less loiter time for the ISR mission. 

The final measure of merit for a LAS aircraft for Afghanistan is its cost of acquisition and maintenance.  The A-29 is not a cheap aircraft at almost $18 million per unit.[liv] This limits the ability of the AAF to acquire this aircraft in a sizable quantity. The cost to maintain the Super Tucano, on the other hand, is more feasible for the AAF.  The Super Tucano is rather cheap to fly at $500 per flying hour compared to the $6,500 per hour for an F-16C.[lv]  This reduced operating cost makes it more affordable for the AAF. Next, since the aircraft is already in service in nine countries and still in production; parts and technical support will remain available and affordable.  Furthermore, Embraer has a computer-based system set up to quickly connect the customer with distributers for spare parts.[lvi] Furthermore, the Tucano can be utilized as a “Basic Trainer, Advanced Trainer, or Weapons Trainer.”[lvii]  This allows this aircraft to serve the Afghan Air Force in multiple roles, thereby consolidating its fleet and saving money. Thus, although not the cheapest aircraft to acquire, the Super Tucano is affordable to operate and maintain once acquired.

The Embraer A-29 exceeds many of the requirements for Afghanistan’s LAS program; however, it fails the requirement for take-off/landing distance and is still an expensive aircraft for the AAF.  Compensating for its failure to meet the take-off/landing distance requirement is its 8.4 hour endurance with external fuel tanks.  This, however, means that the A-29 would have to trade some of its bombs for extra fuel, and ground forces may need to wait longer for air support. Furthermore, the cost of the aircraft also limits its practicality as a LAS contender.  Though cheaper than the AC-295, the Super Tucano is still an expensive aircraft and could very well be out of the price range of the AAF.

Cessna AC-208B Armed Caravan


The Cessna AC-208B Armed Caravan is the final aircraft to be analyzed.  It was designed as low cost aircraft specifically for the FID mission.  The intent was that the United States could help poor countries develop their CAS and ISR mission with an inexpensive and easy to use platform.[lviii] The Armed Caravan is a high-wing, single engine aircraft.  It is 41.6ft in length and has a wingspan of 52.1ft.  The Armed Caravan is powered by a single Honeywell TPE331-12JR engine giving the aircraft 900 shp.[lix]  It also has a three bladed, constant speed propeller with full feathering.[lx] This aircraft can take-off with a max weight of 8,750 lbs and cruise at a speed of 190 kts.[lxi] Similar to the Super Tucano, the AC-208B is already in production.  The Armed Caravan is currently operated by both the Iraqi and Lebanese air forces.[lxii] There the aircraft is already being employed in a counterinsurgency role.[lxiii] Thus, similar to the A-29, the AC-208B holds the advantage of being a combat proven, production aircraft.

The Armed Caravan will now be analyzed for its operational effectiveness as an LAS platform in Afghanistan. The first requirement for this mission is the ability to take-off under 2,500ft.  The AC-208B requires 1,037ft to take-off (1,621ft to clear a 50ft obstacle on take-off) and an even more impressive ground roll of only 884ft, far exceeding the requirements for take-off and landing distances .[lxiv]  This allows the aircraft to exploit Afghanistan’s existing airfields more effectively than the previously mentioned aircraft, a definite advantage in a COIN environment.

The next requirement for the LAS mission is payload and loiter time.  The AC-208B has a modest weapons payload of only two HELLFIRE missiles mounted on hardpoints on the wings.[lxv]  Though this does allow the aircraft to carryout precision strike missions, the Armed Caravan is severely limited by its small payload in its ability to provide sustained fire to ground forces.   The aircraft can, however, loiter for almost 7 hours at 5000ft.[lxvi]  This gives the aircraft the ability to provide armed overwatch missions to the ground force as well as to conduct long ISR missions.  Though it may not have the firepower of other attack aircraft, the AC-208’s HELLFIRE missiles are still deadly, and unlike the Airbus and Super Tucano, the Armed Caravan can better exploit Afghanistan’s primitive airfields to refuel and rearm.

The next measure of merit to be analyzed is the ability to conduct ISR mission. The AC-208B has an L3 Wescam MX-15 EO/IR sensor.  This sensor package includes features such as infrared sensing, color daylight camera, and a laser illuminator and rangefinder.[lxvii]  The Armed Caravan can use its capable ISR suite to effectively hunt targets crucial to the COIN mission in Afghanistan.

The AC-208B distinguishes itself from its two competing aircraft by its ease of operation and maintenance. To put it frankly, aircraft is easy to fly. Because of its affordability and ease of operation, the civilian version of the Cessna 208 is widely used as a bush plane, for skydiving, and other light roles.[lxviii]  Ease of employment is important for a third world country like Afghanistan, where training pilots to operate advanced aircraft is difficult and expensive.  Furthermore, Afghanistan already has eighteen (plus eight on order) unarmed Cessna 208’s in service.[lxix]  Purchasing the AC-208 would benefit Afghanistan since much of the training and maintenance costs could be rolled in with the existing C-208’s. The final and most important measure of merit for an Afghan LAS aircraft is cost   The Armed Caravan costs only $7.5 million per unit with an estimated operating cost of $412.27 per hour including maintenance.[lxx] This is a fraction of the cost of the AC-295 and less than half that of the Super Tucano.

The AC-208B meets all of the previously laid out requirements for a LAS aircraft.  Though it may struggle with its small payload of weapons, the Armed Caravan excels in all other categories, including cost.  The AC-208B is the most operationally capable LAS aircraft for the future FID mission in Afghanistan.  This is not just because it meets the functional requirements; it is also the most practical choice.  Unlike the other more high-tech aircraft analyzed, the Armed Caravan is inexpensive and simple to operate.  This makes it the most practical for the Afghan’s to actually procure and maintain.  Furthermore, since the AAF already has a fleet of Cessna 208’s, the addition of an armed variant should be relatively easy to accommodate. 


The United States Air Force currently seeks a light air support aircraft for the Afghan Air Force. As U.S. combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan, American and allied forces will conduct a FID mission to organize, train, and equip the AAF to operate the selected LAS aircraft.  The question remains whether the Air Force has identified the most operationally capable LAS aircraft for the future FID mission in Afghanistan.

This study has found that the answer to that question is “no.”  The most operationally capable LAS aircraft for Afghanistan, the Cessna AC-208B Armed Caravan, does not even meet the criteria for the AFMC contract.  Though the Armed Caravan most fully meets the needs of the AAF, this aircraft can never win under the existing Air Force Light Air Support program.  This is because the Air Force’s contract is too narrowly conceived and is based on a preconceived notion of what a LAS aircraft should look like (tricycle landing gear, tandem seat, and so forth).  This paper offers an analysis of the battlespace in Afghanistan in order to define a new set of requirement for a LAS aircraft.  Based on this analysis it was determined that a light air support aircraft needed five functional capabilities.  These include the ability to land on short, unimproved runways; loiter and provide firepower to ground forces in contact; and perform ISR and precision strike missions.  These functional requirements were also augmented by practical requirements that focused on the kind of aircraft the AAF can actually operate and sustain.  The associated measures of merit included the affordability of the candidate aircraft, as well as their operating and maintenance costs.  Furthermore, the ability of the AAF to actually employ the aircraft was taken into consideration.

Using the above measures of merit, all three aircraft were evaluated for their suitability as an LAS aircraft for Afghanistan.  The Airbus AC-295 was found to be very capable in terms of all the functional requirements.  It could take-off and land well within 2,500ft, had impressive firepower and loiter time, and could serve a multitude of different missions.  The trade-off, however, was that this aircraft was by far the most expensive, and thus not practical for the AAF from an acquisition standpoint.  The next aircraft analyzed, the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, did well in meeting some, but not all of the functional requirements.  This aircraft stood above the rest in regard to its human interface and firepower.  On top of that, its impressive combat record and multitude of customers around the world spoke well of the Super Tucano.  But this aircraft did not meet the requirements set for take-off and landing, and was still very costly for the Afghan Air Force.  The final aircraft to be analyzed, and the most operationally capable, was the Cessna AC-208B Armed Caravan.  This aircraft met all of the functional requirements, though it was lacking a little on the firepower side.  Unlike the other aircraft, however, this airplane was by far the least expensive at $7.5 million per unit.  Its comparatively low cost, coupled with its ease of operation and maintenance, makes the Armed Caravan the most operationally capable LAS aircraft for Afghanistan.

Summing up, in order to find the most operationally capable LAS aircraft in Afghanistan it is necessary to first define what is required of such a platform.  Using the metrics defined in Defining Required Capabilities, it was possible to find the most suitable aircraft for the AAF’s LAS mission.  The AC-208B Armed Caravan was found to be the most operationally capable of the three aircraft considered.  This was not necessarily because of its capabilities or performance exceeded those of its competitors.  A common mistake, especially in the thinking of a first world country, is prefer inordinately advanced aircraft for the third world nations they are trying to assist.  When the host nation is actually analyzed for what it can sustain, new measures of merit emerge. These include cost and sustainability.  This study found that although the AC-295 and the A-29 may have exceeded the AC-208B in some functional capabilities, they were not feasible for the AAF.   These aircraft were simply just too expensive for the AAF to purchase or to sustain.  In contrast, the AC-208B was a relatively simple platform the AAF could afford to purchase, operate, and maintain.  This becomes extremely important on the day the FID mission ends.  Thus, the USAF has failed to identify the most operationally capable LAS aircraft for the future FID mission in Afghanistan.

Future Research

This paper gives insight into the flawed metrics in the US’s system of selecting FID aircraft.  Further research could branch in two distinct ways.  First, one could look deeper into the LAS mission in Afghanistan.  Better metrics for what Afghanistan needs in a LAS aircraft may be found, or certain ones weighed more or less. Furthermore, one could select for analysis a different category of aircraft.  In the case of strike aircraft, the examination should consider both fixed-wing platforms and attack helicopters.

This topic also opens up the question of whether the USAF is currently selecting the correct aircraft for its FID missions elsewhere.  Future researchers could look into FID mission across the globe and see if the Air Force is in fact organizing, training, and equipping host nations with the right equipment and training for a given country and its particular security needs.  Regardless of whether the most suitable equipment is selected, the USAF’s air commandos can be expected to continue to execute the FID mission and faithfully fulfill their motto of Any Time, Any Place.[lxxi]


Air Force Doctrine Document, (AFDD) 1: Air Force Basic Doctrine, Organization, and Command, Maxwell AFB, AL: Lemay Doctrine Development and Education Center, 2011.

Air Force Doctrine Document, (AFDD) 2-7.1: Foreign Internal Defense, Maxwell AFB, AL: Lemay Doctrine Development and Education Center, 2007.

Airforce-Technology. “AC-208 Combat Caravan Light Attack Aircraft, Iraq.” Airforce-Technology, (accessed March 11, 2013).

Airbus Military. “C295:The Tactical Workhorse.” Airbus Military, (accessed March 11, 2013).

Alliant Techsystems Inc. “AC-208 Combat Caravan.” Alliant Techsystems Inc., (accessed March 11, 2013).

____________________. “Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) Air Combat Command”, Fort Worth, Texas: Alliant Techsystems Inc. Special Mission Aircraft Integrated Systems, 2009.

Amador, Jeronimo. C-295 Gunship Overview. Power Point Presentation.  Airbus Military, May 2010. 

Bamford, Gregory R. “VMLO: The Strategic, Operational, and Tactical Imperative for a Light Observation Squadron within the USMC.” Masters thesis. Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate School, 2012, (accessed March 11, 2013).

Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook: South Asia: Afghanistan. Central Intelligence Agency, (accessed February 13, 2013).

“Cessna Caravan.” Bush-Planes, (accessed March 11, 2013).

Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Clodfelter, Mark. “Forty-Five Years of Frustration: America’s Enduring Dilemma of Fighting Insurgents with Airpower.” Air and Space Power Journal, Spring 2011, media/document/AFD-110419-045.pdf accessed February 13, 2013).

Department of the Air Force. Light Air Support (LAS) Aircraft. FedBizOpps, (accessed March 11, 2013).

Diop, Birame, David M. Peyton, Gene McConville. “Building Africa’s Airlift Capacity: A Strategy for Enhancing Military Effectiveness.” Africa Center for Strategic Studies, August 2012, 2012/08/building-africas-airlift-capacity-a-strategy-for-enhancing-military-effectiveness/ (accessed March 11, 2013), 4.

Embraer Defense Systems. “A-29 Report Card.” Built for the Mission, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

_____________________. “A-29 vs AT-6.” Built for the Mission, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

_____________________. “Combat Proven.” Built for the Mission, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

_____________________. “Super Tucano,” Brochure, Embraer Defense Systems. (Accessed March 11, 2013).

 _____________________. “Super Tucano.” Spec Card, Embraer Defense Systems, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

Flightglobal. “World Air Forces 2013.” Sutton, UK: Quadrant House, 2013.

Galula, David. Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.

Global Security. “Afghan Air Force (AAF).” Global Security, world/afghanistan/anaac.htm (accessed February 13, 2013).

Godoy, Roberto, de O Estado de S. Paulo. “Embraer está perto de fechar contrato com a Defesa dos EUA.” Economia & Negócios,,embraer-esta-perto-de-fechar-contrato-com-a-defesa-dos-eua,93431,0.htm (accessed March 11, 2013).

Hayes, Brad. Light Gunship. Brochure. Alliant Techsystems Inc., (accessed March 11, 2013).

Junger, Sebastian. War. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2010.

Lockheed Martin. “AGM-114R Multi-Purpose HELLFIRE II: Effective Against 21st Century Threats.” Lockheed Martin Corporation, lockheed/data/mfc/pc/hellfire-ii-missile/mfc-hellfire-ii-pc.pdf (accessed February 13, 2013).

Maher, William J. “From the Andes to the Hindu Kush: Colombian Airpower Lessons for Afghanistan.” Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2010, dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/ a523116.pdf (accessed September 18, 2011).

Majumdar, Dave. “Afghan Light Air Support Saga Continues: Chuck Wald Flies the Tucano.” Flightglobal, (accessed March 11, 2013).

______________. “USAF Delays Afghan Light Air Support Source Selection.” Flightglobal, (accessed March 11, 2013).

Murdock, Clark A. “Special Operations Forces Aviation at the Crossroads.” Washington, D.C.: CSIS, 2007, (accessed January 24, 2013).

Reed, John. “Super Tucano Wins USAF’s Light Attack Contest.” Defense Tech, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

Robinson Lee. “Bull in a China Shop? Attack Aviation and the COIN Battlefield.” Small Wars Journal, 2012, (accessed February 13, 2013).

Sagraves, Robert D. “The Indirect Approach: The Role of Aviation Foreign Internal Defense in Combating Terrorism in Weak and Failing States.” Research report. Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University, 2005, (accessed February 13, 2013).

Trimble, Stephen. “USAF Orders 2nd Cessna Caravan for Lebanon [Corrected].” Flightglobal, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

United States Air Force. “1st Special Operations Wing.” Hurlburt Field, FL, (accessed March 12, 2013).

End Notes

[i] Department of the Air Force, Light Air Support (LAS) Aircraft, FedBizOpps, (accessed March 11, 2013).

[iii] Dave Majumdar, “USAF Delays Afghan Light Air Support Source Selection,” Flightglobal, (accessed March 11, 2013).

[iv] _____________, “Afghan Light Air Support Saga Continues: Chuck Wald Flies the Tucano,” Flightglobal, (accessed March 11, 2013).

[v] Air Force Doctrine Document, (AFDD) 2-7.1: Foreign Internal Defense, (Maxwell AFB, AL: Lemay Doctrine Development and Education Center, 2007), 3.

[vi] Air Force Doctrine Document, (AFDD) 1: Air Force Basic Doctrine, Organization, and Command, (Maxwell AFB, AL: Lemay Doctrine Development and Education Center, 2011), 49.

[vii] Air Force Doctrine Document 2-7.1, 87.

[viii] Ibid., 88.

[ix] AFDD-1, 50.

[x] Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook: South Asia: Afghanistan, Central Intelligence Agency, (accessed February 13, 2013).

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Mark Clodfelter, “Forty-Five Years of Frustration: America’s Enduring Dilemma of Fighting Insurgents with Airpower,” Air and Space Power Journal Spring 2011, media/document/AFD-110419-045.pdf (accessed February 13, 2013), 80.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Sebastian Junger, War (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2010), 258-259.

[xvi] Ibid., 259.

[xvii] Carl von Clausewitz, On War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 151. & AFDD-1, 29-33

[xviii] Robert D. Sagraves, “The Indirect Approach: The Role of Aviation Foreign Internal Defense in Combating Terrorism in Weak and Failing States” (Research report , Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University, 2005), (accessed February 13, 2013), 34.

[xix] David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006), 65.

[xx] Lee Robinson, “Bull in a China Shop? Attack Aviation and the COIN Battlefield,” Small Wars Journal, 2012, (accessed February 13, 2013), 3.

[xxi] William J. Maher, “From the Andes to the Hindu Kush: Colombian Airpower Lessons for Afghanistan” (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2010), a523116.pdf (accessed September 18, 2011), 16-17.

[xxii] Clausewitz, On War, 32.

[xxiii] Robinson, “Bull in a China Shop,” 1.

[xxiv] Lockheed Martin, “AGM-114R Multi-Purpose HELLFIRE II: Effective Against 21st Century Threats.” Lockheed Martin Corporation, lockheed/data/mfc/pc/hellfire-ii-missile/mfc-hellfire-ii-pc.pdf (accessed February 13, 2013).

[xxv] Clark A. Murdock, “Special Operations Forces Aviation at the Crossroads,” (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007), (accessed January 24, 2013), 12.

[xxvi] Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook.

[xxvii] Global Security, “Afghan Air Force (AAF),” Global Security, world/afghanistan/anaac.htm (accessed February 13, 2013).

[xxix] Airbus Military, “C295: The Tactical Workhorse,” Airbus Military, Aircraft/C295/C295About.aspx (accessed March 11, 2013).

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Jeronimo Amador, C-295 Gunship Overview, Power Point Presentation, Airbus Military, May 2010, 25-27.

[xxxii] Ibid., 32.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 29.

[xxxiv] Ibid., 16.

[xxxv] Ibid., 21.

[xxxvi] Brad Hayes,  Light Gunship, Brochure, Alliant Techsystems Inc., (accessed March 11, 2013).

[xxxvii] Amador, C-295 Gunship Overview, 29.

[xxxviii] Hayes, Light Gunship.

[xxxix] Amador, C-295 Gunship Overview, 11.

[xl] Birame Diop, David M. Peyton, Gene McConville, “Building Africa’s Airlift Capacity: A Strategy for Enhancing Military Effectiveness,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies, August 2012, 2012/08/building-africas-airlift-capacity-a-strategy-for-enhancing-military-effectiveness/ (accessed March 11, 2013), 4.

[xli] Airbus Military, “C295: The Tactical Workhorse.”

[xlii] Embraer Defense Systems, “Super Tucano,” Spec card, Embraer Defense Systems, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

[xliii] _____________________, “Super Tucano,” Brochure, Embraer Defense Systems, (Accessed March 11, 2013), 4.

[xliv] ______________________, Spec card.

[xlv] Embraer Defense Systems, Brochure, 5.

[xlvi] _____________________, “Combat Proven,” Built for the Mission, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] Embraer Defense Systems, “A-29 vs AT-6,” Built for the Mission, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

[xlix] ____________________, Spec card.

[l] Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook.

[li] Embraer Defense Systems, “A-29 Report Card,” Built for the Mission, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

[lii] _____________________, Spec Card.

[liii] ______________________, A-29 vs AT-6.

[liv] John Reed, “Super Tucano Wins USAF’s Light Attack Contest,” Defense Tech, (Accessed March 11, 2013).

[lv] Roberto Godoy, de O Estado de S. Paulo, “Embraer está perto de fechar contrato com a Defesa dos EUA,” Economia & Negócios,,embraer-esta-perto-de-fechar-contrato-com-a-defesa-dos-eua,93431,0.htm (accessed March 11, 2013).

[lvi] Embraer Defense Systems, Brochure, 7.

[lvii] Ibid., 7.

[lviii] Gregory R. Bamford, “VMLO: The Strategic, Operational, and Tactical Imperative for a Light Observation Squadron within the USMC” (Masters thesis, Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate School, 2012), (accessed March 11, 2013) 13.

[lix] Alliant Techsystems Inc. Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) Air Combat Command (Fort Worth, Texas: Alliant Techsystems Inc. Special Mission Aircraft Integrated Systems, 2009), 2-5.

[lx] Ibid., 2-4.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Stephen Trimble, “USAF Orders 2nd Cessna Caravan for Lebanon [Corrected],” Flightglobal, (accessed March 11, 2013).

[lxiii] Airforce-Technology, “AC-208 Combat Caravan Light Attack Aircraft, Iraq,” Airforce-Technology, (accessed March 11, 2013).

[lxiv] Alliant Techsystems Inc, Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance, 2-4.

[lxv] ___________________, “AC-208 Combat Caravan,” Alliant Techsystems Inc., (accessed March 11, 2013).

[lxvi] ___________________, Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance, 2-19 – 2-20.

[lxvii] Ibid., 2-8.

[lxviii] “Cessna Caravan,” Bush-Planes, (accessed March 11, 2013).

[lxix] Flightglobal, Word Air Forces 2013, (Sutton, UK: Quadrant House, 2013), 9.

[lxx] Alliant Techsystems Inc., Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance, 2-13.

[lxxi] United States Air Force, “First Special Operations Wing,” Hurlburt Field, FL, (accessed March, 11 2013).


About the Author(s)

Second Lieutenant Kenn Boechler, U.S. Air Force, majored in Military and Strategic Studies at the USAF Academy.



Tue, 10/15/2013 - 6:06pm

In reply to by Pathfinder07

P.S. Many Afghans and ISAF have truly done a courageous/heroic job with what they have been given to work with, but they have not been properly resourced, and they have been resourced too late in the game over the past 12 years (we cannot claim a solid 12 years of truly standing the Afghans up properly to fully and properly run their own show). We can still fix the CAS Air Force part of the mission, but to do that we as the international community leadership would have to focus, and not keep crying from the back seat like a small child: ".... are we there yet?"

There have been other excellent comments made by others and I hope to add more to what I have already outlined for a more comprehensive picture


Sun, 10/13/2013 - 3:59pm

In reply to by Pathfinder07


IMO your point that there was a large number of adequately trained personnel in the Soviet-era AAF is a timely reminder of what is possible. However I do believe it is important to note that the Soviet-era AAF was woeful at CAS. In fact they were so bad that some Muj were of the opinion that the lack of accuracy was due to their fellow countrymen deliberately missing the Muj fighting positions out of religious affinity. The occasional accurate strike was explained away as the work of Hindus or the oft cited never seen Jew flying in AAF marked aircraft!

Mysteriously this sentiment of possible religious solidarity was somehow lost sometime between ejection and the Muj getting their hands on downed airmen. Pilots of any hue or persuasion suffered particularly gruesome deaths in a war not renowned for its compassionate treatment of POWs.

IMO the lack of the Soviet-era AAF effectiveness was primarily due to the fast jets and ordnance designed for war in Western Europe being ill-suited to UW war in general and the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan in particular. The one obvious exception - the Su 25, is a glaring omission from the extensive list above. In fact Su 25s of the Soviet AF were rarely encountered by the Muj during the ten years of Soviet occupation.

Happily for us the USAF does not suffer from Soviet bone-headedness. No sir, they have an old aircraft that has had one careful owner and when handed over to the new much smaller AAF it will deliver ten times the CAS punch of the old swept-wing Saurist AAF.

Furthermore, unbeknown to just about everyone, a USAF band of brothers has been using their spare time to quietly and thanklessly train hundreds of eager Afghan A-10 pilots and ground crew to operate the 50 odd well-used A-10s the USAF are going to hand over when they leave!




Fri, 10/11/2013 - 7:40pm

In reply to by carl


Your are right. Piloting is not solely a function of higher education. Chuck Jaeger was a High School graduate, enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a mechanic and learned to fly in the enlisted flight training program. For all the young people... Chuck Jaeger is the first pilot to officially break the sound barrier... so I agree, there are some very smart folks in Afghanistan quite capable of piloting aircraft. I personally watched an Afghan mechanic fix an engine with a rubber band... just saying.



Fri, 10/11/2013 - 6:29pm

In reply to by McCallister


I will buy your argument as stated, mostly. You are right we will probably leave the Afghans in the lurch just like we did the South Vietnamese. If India or Iran doesn't pick up the slack the Afghan gov wouldn't be able to keep much of an air force going. Which brings us back to LT. Boechler's point that if they are going to have any chance of keeping an air force, it had better be composed of simple and relatively inexpensive aircraft.

The mostly part that I would disagree with is that human material for pilots and mechanics couldn't be found despite the horrors inflicted on the educational system. There are around thirty million people there. That is a lot of people. Piloting isn't really all that hard, in a way. A smart guy with an 8th grade education should be able to handle simple aircraft well enough. And once he mastered that it is just a matter of progression. There should be enough people like that to be found among thirty million.

In another way, piloting is very hard, but not book hard so much. It is more like self-discipline, awareness, ability to look ahead, ability to divide attention, staying calm when you want to freak out hard. That isn't so much a matter of higher education as it is matter of what is inside and training. I figure guys like that could be found over there.

No I am not that Carl. I wish. From what I've read, especially in The Snake Eaters, he is a giant among men. I'm a little pipsqueak in comparison.


Fri, 10/11/2013 - 6:05pm

In reply to by carl

Brother Carl,

I understood Pathfinder 07's point. He states it clearly at the end of his post. For sake of discussion, Pathfinder 07's could support his argument by explaining the reason we can't find the same amount of potential pilots that the Soviets did is because when the Soviets invaded/liberated the country, Afghanistan still benefited from a functioning education system established and flourishing under the monarchy and could pick and chose from many graduates of this education system. This education system would only later be destroyed by a vicious civil war after the departure of the Soviet serving forces and modernization advisers. But I am not arguing that point. My point remains that even if you find the right people to train to man and fix all the magnificent toys that we are providing, the system will eventually crash because Uncle Sugar will eventually stop funding the modernization effort, just like the Soviets did when they departed. Hence my point that the author's assumption is faulty because the area of operations will not receive the same levels of funding for the next foreseeable future, in this case a decade.

Are you the same Carl from Pittsburgh... Iraq veteran and journalist?



Fri, 10/11/2013 - 5:22pm

In reply to by McCallister


As I understood it, Pathfinder 07's point was a little different. It actually, again as I understood it, had to do with us and not with Afghan ability to fund a capable air force.

We have been there for almost 13 years and poured a boatload of money into the place. For all that, the AAF isn't much and is nothing compared to what the Soviets were able to do in the country. The point as I read it is that this is the result of our failure, our failure to build the physical capacity because we just didn't try so hard or so well. It is not because people who can fly and maintain aircraft cannot be found in Afghanistan. They can. The Soviets found them. It is just that we can't. That is how I understood Pathfinder 07's point.

It is too bad too. Back in Indochina oh so many decades ago we found and trained guys like Lee Lue. ( )


Fri, 10/11/2013 - 4:31pm

In reply to by Pathfinder07

I beg to differ with the author’s assumption. A common mistake among COIN is not assuming that their main objective is a reflection of the conventional Clausewitzian strategy that war is won through the destruction of the enemy’s fielded forces but assuming that the area of operations will retain the same levels of funding for the next foreseeable future, in this case a decade. This faulty assumption allows planners to plan grandiose edifices of Western influence.

Pathfinder 07 wonderfully lays out what was once the Afghan Airforce under Soviet modernization efforts. But what happened to this magnificent force? What happened when the funding stopped? And if it happened once, can it happen again? Here is a snapshot, if history is any indication, of how the Afghan superorganism is going to respond. The awesome security forces of all types that we so diligently recruited, trained, mentored, and empowered, and who we just couldn’t get to accept the principle of civilian control will eventually run out of monies. Maybe we can get the Fisher House to pick up the slack once Uncle Sugar stops sending checks. Individual commanders will be hard pressed to retain control over their charges and will, if history again is any indication, begin to look for alternate means of raising funds. This will entail providing security for roads, key intersections, and urban areas, among other things. Command and control will inevitably break down and the cycle of empire building starts all over again. I think Afghanistan is an awesome place.


Thu, 10/10/2013 - 6:10pm

In reply to by Pathfinder07

Pathfinder 07:

How uncivil of you to remind us of Western arrogance, diffidence, lack of imagination and laziness being transformed into Afghan impossible to fix backwardness. Uncivil but true and needed. Good job.


Thu, 10/10/2013 - 5:53pm

I though I would share this with the group. We generally get out of life what we put into and in this case we could do a lot better.

Here is an excerpt for the Afghan Air Force as controlled by the Soviets (Source Wikipedia):

The Afghan air force was at its strongest in the 1980s and early 1990s, producing some concern on the part of neighboring countries. The air service had at least 7,000 personnel plus 5,000 foreign advisers. At its peak, the air force had at least 240 fixed-wing combat aircraft (fighters, fighter-bombers, light bombers), 150 helicopters, and perhaps 40 or more Antonov transports of various models. Midway through the Soviet-Afghan war, one estimate of Afghan air power listed the following inventory:

90 x interceptor MiG-17 - one regiment of MiG-17s and MiG-19s reported at Mazar-i-sharif in 1990,

45 x interceptor MiG-21 - in 1990, thee squadrons were reported at Bagram Air Base

60 x fighter bomber Su-7, Su -17 Airplane, a British partwork, reported in its issue 21, published in 1985, that some 48 Su-7BMs, without Su-7UM two-seaters, had been supplied from 1970, forming the equipment of two fighter/ground attack squadrons at Shindand Airbase.

45 x light bomber Il-28.

150 x helicopter Mi-8, Mi-24

Additionally, the Afghan air force probably operated some 40 or more transports, including the An-26 and An-24, and An-24. Another estimate in 1988 painted a more detailed picture of the Afghan Air Force.

322nd Air Regiment, Bagram Air Base, three fighter squadrons with 40 MiG-21s

321st Air Regiment, Bagram Air Base, three fighter/bomber squadrons with Su-7/Su-22

393rd Air Regiment, Dehdadi Air Base (Balkh), three fighter/bomber squadrons with MiG-17s

355th Air Regiment, Shindand Airbase, 3 bomber squadrons with Il-28s and one fighter/bomber squadron with MiG-17s

232nd Air Regiment, Kabul Airport, three helicopter squadrons with Mi-4, Mi-6, and Mi-8 with one squadron of Mi-8s detached to Shindand

377th Air Regiment, Kabul Airport, four helicopter squadrons with Mi-25s and Mi-17s

Air Regiment, Kabul Airport, two transport squadrons with An-2, An-26/30, and one VIP transport squadron with one Il-18 and 12 An-14s

two attack helicopter squadrons with Mi-24s at Jallalabad and Kabul

Air Force Academy, Kabul, with Yak-18s and L-39s

Air Defence Forces consisting of two SAM regiments at Kabul, an AAA Battalion at Kandahar, and a radar regiment at Kabul

The Aviation support efforts by the international community since 2001 ranges from Timid to Pathetic and during the fist part of 2001 some international “rocket scientists” concluded to themselves that Afghanistan did not need an air force, yet our troops get full air support when we are there. In the Words of American Maj Gen Walter Givhan with Afghanistan's expanses” “Afghanistan begs for air power”

It would be tragic to conclude the Soviets did a better job than ISAF who was actually invited and under the UN as opposed to a Soviet invasion. The Soviets had a lot of “air superiority” with aircraft such the MiG-21 and could have focused more on CAS / ground support but they did have a full Afghan Air Force including many helicopters transport and even light bombers, albeit their older stock (used refurbished, not new with the higher price tag)

The idea that a country of almost 30,000,000 people in 2013 and it is said they cannot generate enough pilots & staff is a lot of crap. A timid and disorganized recruitment and training plan for the last 12 years is the culprit and the lack of international will. The previous experience shows that the Afghans are very capable when properly supported. During the Soviet time Maj Gen Mohammed Darwan was part of the Soviet Space program as a sign of what they thought of the best and brightest in Afghanistan. The idea that we cannot recruit enough qualified Afghans for a small air force with a population of 30,000,000?. BS !! (that's the "technical" term!).


Mon, 10/07/2013 - 4:14pm

In reply to by carl

Gunships are NOT 24 hour CAS platforms. There's a reason AC47's, AC119's & AC130's fly their missions when it's dark.

I point out some of the specifics below in a response to one of your previous posts.


Thu, 10/03/2013 - 8:47pm

In reply to by RantCorp


This is one of the publications referenced by the author.

Maher, William J. “From the Andes to the Hindu Kush: Colombian Airpower Lessons for Afghanistan.” Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2010, dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/ a523116.pdf

As you do, it suggests the MI=17 would be ideal for Afghan purposes. It advocates also an AC-27 as a gunship.

That is one fine idea about using A-10s. It makes perfect sense for all the reasons you mention. It would be an ideal solution, except for one thing. (You know what's coming I'll bet.) That one thing is that is would embarrass the USAF. Imagine how it would look if we gave up the airplane and some primitives like the Afghans immediately made good use of it supporting ground troops, especially if flown by ex-USAF mercenaries. No, that would never do.


Thu, 10/03/2013 - 3:38pm

In reply to by kotkinjs1

I did a double take on ‘5000 feet’ and assumed it was a typo thinking the author meant 5000 meters, but apparently not. I would strongly argue unless your Strike aircraft can loiter, cruise and turn in very tight spaces at minimum 5000 meters altitude you have no place being in the fledgling AAF.

From fighting positions at every altitude between SL and 4000 meters the enemy has been firing infantry weapons up to and including 12.7mm HMG at aircraft for the last 30 years and they have no reason to stop now.

I would have thought the Mi-17 would have to be a no-brainer. It needs no explanation as a workhorse but many people may not appreciate it is a formidable attack helicopter and can carry an astounding amount and variety of ordnance.

Equally I would have thought the A-10 was next. I would have said an equal first but I have no experience with its maintainability and the undercarriages’ rough strip capacity. To me the engines look modular so a ‘exchange’ recon engine program with a friendly ally would eliminate any reliability issues (if there is one).

It doesn’t matter to Afghans how old the frames are the Afghans will keep them going. Trust me they have/had commercial airliners that wouldn’t be allowed to taxi on any airfield in the US leave alone attempt a landing or takeoff.

The Mi-17 can go forever.

I assume the ballistic armor and the triplicate redundancy of the A-10 would render it as a tough old bird which given power from one engine it will get you home long after many airframes come apart on you.

And the second best bit is that both these aircraft and spares can be acquired at bone-yard prices.

Last but not least I would have thought there are more than enough experienced pilots who would be willing to fly ‘zero ROE’ combat missions in an AAF A-10.



Thu, 10/03/2013 - 1:11pm

As with most Afghan (not Afghani.... that's a currency) analysis and mission planning, we're missing the forest for the trees. "In light of this future mission, the question necessarily follows: has the United States Air Force selected the most operationally capable strike aircraft for the future FID mission in Afghanistan?" is the wrong question at the wrong time to the wrong audience. The AAF has no pilots, no organic or enduring maintenance capacity, no logistics, no contracting capability, no military or civilian aviation regulatory framework (organic ATC?), basically nothing to handle any airframe at any time for any mission. I know there's a lot of people..... especially contractors and lobbyists who'd love to underwrite Afghanistan's AF capacity for years (decades?) to come, but when does reality enter into the equation? It's a laudable goal that the USAF is trying to get the AAF to IOC in the face of overwhelming odds.... and reality, but is it maybe time to put the horse before the cart where it belongs?


Thu, 10/17/2013 - 10:54am

In reply to by major.rod

As a former Marine rotary wing pilot with two operational tours in Iraq (2003, 2004/05), I would like to reinforce a statement made by carl in regards to the “corkscrew approaches” that you mentioned and included a YouTube video of. I will not go into specifics of the tactics/techniques/procedures (TTPs) that we used but I will say that not once did we ever use the “corkscrew approach” landing profile you mentioned. This isn’t to say that said tactic isn’t prudent under certain circumstances, I’m just stating that no one in our squadron (that I am aware of) ever used this tactic. Also, I was stationed at three different airfields in Iraq on my two deployments and got to witness firsthand the landing profile of every type of Type/Model/Series (TMS) aircraft under the sun up to and including civilian fixed wing heavies. Once again, I never personally witnessed a “corkscrew approach” into the airfield. This isn’t to say that “aggressive descent profiles” weren’t used, but not once did I see the “corkscrew approach” performed.
I did get to witness AC-130s in action a few times. One memorable evening I had while transiting between buildings on the airfield I was stationed was witnessing an AC-130 in a pattern somewhere above the airfield (I couldn’t see it with the naked eye since it was at night) but I sure knew it was there every time it opened up with its 40mm cannons to engage some unseen (to me) targets that had been identified outside the “wire” near the airfield in the local village.
In regards to what platform will serve the fledgling Afghanistan Air Force the best, I would agree that the aircraft that can perform the expected missions, with minimal cost while being serviceable/reliable would be the fit for their intended uses. I’m sure there are a few decent options out there. :)


Mon, 10/14/2013 - 10:37pm

In reply to by major.rod


You are confusing me. You say AC-130s don't do CAS with guns when they are flying about at night. What do they do?

In WWII at least in the ETO if I remember correctly the worst mission for fighters was strafing airfields. That isn't close air support. But that is beside the point, which is you can't do effective close air support if there are substantial anti-aircraft defenses about. Maybe the Russians can since they were willing to lose IL-2s by the thousands and thousands, but I don't think we can. The Israelis certainly couldn't do it in the 1973 war. From what I read the IAF was only to provide effective support when the Arabs outran their air defenses or when they were weakened or pulled defenses back to cover Damascus.

Many aircraft have been lost supporting front line troops but the trick is not to lose so many that it isn't worth it anymore. That depends on how many airplanes you have available to lose. In WWII we had a lot but, again from what I've read, we didn't lose so many over the front lines as to make it unacceptable. And there were other things. Often, neither the Germans nor Japanese would shoot at artillery observation aircraft flying over the front line. They didn't dare because if they missed, those aircraft would call in huge amounts of artillery on their Axis heads. Those artillery spotter airplanes were the lowest of the low when it came to flight performance, very many being 65 horsepower Piper Cubs.

Let us just say that corkscrew approach is fun for pilots but other than that nowadays in places that aren't Khe Sahn...

Granted aircraft have been lost to guns and small missiles, but we are talking about fights against insurgents. They may have the occasional gun and missile and may get lucky once in a while. But as I said above, not at a frequency that will preclude operations. As far as the missiles go, that is mainly because of effective defensive systems.

Your last paragraph gets us to where we want to go. You are right, the for the USAF, us, to base our CAS capabilities around airplanes that can only fly in low threat environments isn't wise. But the article that generated all this isn't talking about us. It is talking about the Afghan Air Force. They fly in a very low threat environment so it makes perfect sense for them to buy aircraft that can only operate in that environment because those airplanes will be a lot cheaper. They don't need zoomies.


Mon, 10/14/2013 - 8:49pm

In reply to by carl

Yes time has passed since 1991. Defensive techniques have improved, so have enemy weapons. We still don't fly AC130's during the day where they can use their guns. That's kind of important if the mission is CAS.

AC130's as of a year ago have had day sensor systems installed. They still do not do CAS with guns. They can't use their guns without putting the plane at risk. These are facts not speculation.

You can "suggest" we haven't lost a lot of aircraft in high threat environments doing CAS but you'd be wrong. During WWII CAS missions were considered the most dangerous for fighter aircraft. Thousands of aircraft (fixed wing and rotary) shot down during Vietnam were shot down while providing CAS as well as the most effective killers of US aircraft since Desert Storm have been MANPADs and AAA fire both of which are assigned to front line units.

Don't know where you were observing aircraft land. Coming in over an open desert is different than flying over urban or mountainous areas that offer cover and concealment to MANPADs also corkscrew maneuvers occur BEFORE final approach. Here's a link to an Iraqi passenger plane conducting a corkscrew landing in Baghdad in 2008

Yes we have a small number of AC130's. Maybe the Air Force's decision to devote resources to airframes that can provide CAS night AND day might be a clue as to the AC130's survivability and versatility? BTW, the only AC130 shot down in history was doing CAS and was shot down my MAPADS.

Finally basing your CAS capabilities around aircraft that can only fly in low threat environments isn't sound unless you don't plan on providing CAS in any other type of environment. This is the danger of planning to fight the next war like the last one.


Sun, 10/13/2013 - 7:52pm

In reply to by major.rod


AC-130 are indeed extremely vulnerable during the day, in something other than the relatively low threat environment that existed in Iraq and to my knowledge exists in Afghanistan. That AC-130 was shot down during the day, while conducting operations against regular Iraqi Army forces. Flying low in the day against those guys I imagine was not operating in a relatively low threat environment. The Iraqi insurgents and Taliban & Co., as much trouble as they have been, are not regular formations.

I don't know what kind of defensive systems that AC-130 had in 1991 but I think whatever it had wasn't as good as what it had 10 and 20 years later. That particular kill probably stimulated a lot of work in that area.

This is what I figure is the main reason the USAF doesn't fly the AC-130s during the day. It appears to be a very capable night platform. There are only a handful of the airplanes in service. Pilots are people and people generally operate best if the are given a fixed sked so their circadian rhythms can accommodate. Besides there are flight duty regs that will militate against switching between day and night missions. So with all that in mind it makes sense that the USAF chooses to fly that airplane only at night. Additionally, because there are so few of them, why take the slightest chance that it will get tagged. There are lots of F-16s, Kiowas and funny looking King Airs to lose so the very small risk is acceptable.

I never saw anybody make a corkscrew approach, not once. That is not to say that they weren't made on occasion but I used to watch a lot and I never saw one.

You didn't say evasive maneuvering, you said terrain masking on the run in and out. If you gotta do that, I figure it is a high threat environment; otherwise why shorten the time you have to see and aim at the target?

I disagree we have conducted a lot of close air support in high threat environments over the years. You used the word contested but contested can mean one guy with a Mosin-Nagant, so I will use high threat instead. We have lost a lot of airplanes over the years to ground fire, but I would suggest that most of those lost weren't doing close air support, they were doing interdiction or strafing airfields, things like that. Those types of missions meant you were going back into the enemies base areas and there could be a lot, a lot, of guns back there. Close air support we haven't done in the teeth of intact organized anti-aircraft units equipped with heavy, sophisticated flak weapons. When it is tried, or sort of tried, it doesn't result in effective support, too many airplanes are shot down and the rest are too busy dodging to do a good job. A good example of that is the German attempt to knock down the bridge at Remagen after we took it. That wasn't exactly CAS but it was trying to hit a small target very close to the front line in the teeth of heavy opposition. They didn't do well.

Now that doesn't mean that doing close support in a low threat environment doesn't result in the occasional hit. It obviously does, but not so often that it precludes good work being done. An AC-130 or a gunship will be able to do fairly well in a low threat environment. After all, a big cannon shooting down at a stationary target probably outmatches by a lot a .30 calibre machine gun shooting up at an airplane that is moving.

I do believe airframes are relatively unimportant when delivering close air support, in a low threat environment, one where the opposition is mainly guys with rifles and infantry machine guns. I think a cargo type airplane with a side firing gun and guided munitions will do just fine in the day in that case.

This discussion is great fun. But I fear it is the immovable object meeting the irresistible force.


Sat, 10/12/2013 - 11:58pm

In reply to by carl

Carl – You can’t wish away the fact that AC130’s are extremely vulnerable during the day. We learned our lesson in the first gulf war when we lost a plane and the whole crew because they stayed until daylight. So in the last 20 years we have NEVER employed AC130’s guns during the day.

Cargo aircraft fly differently than AC130’s both in altitude and the corkscrew approaches they make during the day into even mildly contested airfields. ISR and cargo aircraft largely accomplish their missions out of range of MANPADS the AC130 cannot and employ its guns. Keep in mind what kind of guns are on the AC130 and their ranges.

You may believe the AC130 is survivable but the Air Force has disagreed with you for the last two decades.

I’d also disagree with your assessment that evasive maneuvering equals a high threat environment. What are you basing this assessment on? It’s actually called prudence and all our aircraft employ it as they can. One doesn’t wait for the enemy to shoot at you to use cover. It’s simply how you move in a combat environment.

“It seems to me also that if you are in a high threat environment such that you have to use terrain masking, you won't be much good at close air support anyway. Historically, you have to have a permissive environment or that kind of support for troops in a fight isn't practicable…” We must read different books. Since WWII we have routinely conducted close air support in contested environments and lost plenty of aircraft doing it. A casual search of aircraft lost to ground fire while doing CAS should provide you a load of hits. I should have told those F16’s and A10’s that I watched conducting CAS that they weren’t supposed to be there.

You may believe air frames are unimportant when it comes to delivering CAS. I can tell you from an experiential, historical precedent and current doctrine you couldn’t be more wrong.


Tue, 10/08/2013 - 12:29am

In reply to by major.rod


No, I disagree. If AC-130s can't support troops in contact during the day then Kiowas can't, Apaches doing gun runs can't and fixed wing doing shows of force can't either. But they do. All those other cargo and ISR airplanes fly during the day inside shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles envelopes too, on approach and departure at the very least. Neither they nor the helos can maneuver like a zoomie but they survive. All this is because of the low threat environment. The systems they have allow them to survive in the low threat environment in the day. The AC-130s probably have far better systems and could survive in the day too, if they chose to fly during the day. Why they don't, I don't know exactly. Maybe they fly only at night because of tasking or there aren't that many night capable machines around. But in the low threat environment that exists there, they could survive during the day.

If a fixed wing has to use terrain masking to hide its approach to and exit from a target, then I submit it isn't a low threat environment. It's a high threat environment and none of those other aircraft will be up and about. We aren't talking about a high threat environment. We're talking about a low threat one so the flight performance of the zoomies is irrelevant.

It seems to me also that if you are in a high threat environment such that you have to use terrain masking, you won't be much good at close air support anyway. Historically, you have to have a permissive environment or that kind of support for troops in a fight isn't practicable because there isn't the time to hang around and get things right as far as where the target is, 'Is it next to that house with the hole in the roof or next to the big rock?' type of thing. The F-35 enthusiasts say they will have the equipment to do that but that plane will be so expensive nobody is going to send it anywhere close to troops who can shoot back.

Supporting troops in contact who need something dropped on the heads of the enemy is CAS in my unsophisticated view. It is the thing dropped on the heads of the bad guys that does the work. What kind of airplane delivering it is immaterial. In a low threat environment just about anything can do the job. It doesn't have to be a zoomie.


Mon, 10/07/2013 - 4:09pm

In reply to by carl

C130's flying during the day aren't doing CAS. CAS is a different flight profile that puts them inside the MANPADS envelope which is exactly why AC130's don't fly daylight CAS. It is VERY hard to acquire a blacked out AC130 at night and when it's shooting at you, you're ducking...

A Super Tuc (like an A10) can use terrain to mask its approach to a target and quickly duck behind terrain after a gun run. It also can use its inherent maneuverability to avoid enemy air defense. C130s can't do that.

Promoting gunships as CAS solutions demonstrate a clear misunderstanding of the CAS mission or accepting only flying when its dark.


Wed, 10/02/2013 - 12:07am

In reply to by major.rod


At the risk of overmatching myself, I must disagree. AC-130s may not fly during the day but C-130s do, as do Dash-7s, Dash-8s, BE-1900s, funny looking King Airs, Antonovs of every kind, C-17s, 747s, 727s, many different kinds of helos and on and on, or at least they did in Iraq. I would be surprised if things were much different in Afghanistan. None of those airplanes depend upon flight performance to survive a shoulder fired SAM threat. They depend upon systems they have to detect and decoy missiles, varying their flight paths, staying high enough to make them difficult to hit with a gun or not being a worthwhile target for whatever reason. AC-130s may not fly during the day but it isn't because they can't survive during the day in a very permissive air defense environment.

You can hang a MWS and flare or other kind of system to defeat missiles on just about anything with wings. That works for daylight flying and has for years. Varying your flight path is just a matter of a little thought. A side firing gun, Hellfire or guided 120mm mortar shell would allow missions to be flown well out of easy gun range. With the right kind of weapons, a light transport type airplane, like an M-28 Skytruck, should serve very nicely as a close support aircraft. And the M-28 is already in the inventory as the C-145A.

You are quite right that the Caravan is just too lightly armed to do the job but there are other aircraft that could carry enough weaponry to be worthwhile and be much less expensive to buy, operate and be more versatile than a Tucano or AT-6. They wouldn't be nearly as much fun to fly but they may be equally good at killing evil doers. I just don't see the pressing need for a junior league zoomie to smite Talibans.

This is I believe, a photo of the C-145A.…

It looks cool in grey.


Tue, 10/01/2013 - 6:13pm

I found the author's premise that a light gunship is equivalent to a purpose made close air support aircraft fundamentally flawed. There's a reason we don't fly AC130's during the day even in Afghanistan's highly permissive air defense environment. The C295 is a non starter.

Then the selected AC208B's max weapon load of all of TWO hellfire missiles fundamentally fails in providing an aircraft to fulfill the light air support mission. The disparity between the Super Tuc's payload and the AC208B clearly indicates the airplane is an F in this category.

A better comparison would have been made by looking at the AT6B Texan which actually competed against the Super Tuc for the mission and including crew requirements as a criteria in doing a comparison.

This wasn't an analysis of aircraft to to do the mission. It was a very flawed effort to justify a cheap unsuitable plane for a light air support mission.

Mark Pyruz

Tue, 10/01/2013 - 2:47pm

Iran's IRGC-AF is equipped with the predecessor aircraft to the A-29 (EMB 314) : the Embraer T-27 Tucano (EMB-312).

Interesting to note: the Tucano already has a history of combat operations in Afghanistan, in IRGC-AF service. This was at a time when it was Iran that was doing the heavy lifting in the war against the Taliban (pre-OEF).


Mon, 10/07/2013 - 6:49pm

In reply to by carl

Performance is based on a newly manufactured aircraft, which is well maintained and flown under standard ISA day-Sea level nad 15°C/59°F.
Flight Manual for Cessna C208 Equipped with Honeywell TPE331-12JR Engine

STANDARD EMPTY WEIGHT 4085 lbs (with pilot)
MAXIMUM USEFUL LOAD 4275 lbs i.e. Co-pilot and observer,Combat equipment air crews,military radios and all weather navigation,weapons and pylons(add drag),EO gimbal and operator's Console,Aircraft Survivable Equipment,Armoured cabin and fuel tanks,336 US gallon fuel-only fuel weight 2225 lbs
MAXIMUM TAKE OFF WEIGHT 8360 lbs (standard ISA day)

Kabul Airport is about 5900 feet above sea level and is surrounded by mountains that rise to 15,000 feet.
Manual page 7,target takeoff torque-6000´above sea level+30°C=Torque 82%,+40°C=73%,above 43°C take off must be aborted.

Maximum speed 190 knots???
Is it joke?

I have a question. Are the takeoff and landing figures for the Caravan pilot operating handbook figures or are they brochure figures? And are they for a high elevation, say 3,000 to 5,000 feet and high temps, say 95-100 degrees F? The POH numbers, given the temp and altitude are what the airplane will really do in the field.

That said, I think the general idea behind the article is good. What will be really practical for the conditions found in Afghanistan and the use the airplane will be put to doesn't really need a sophisticated airplane like a Tucano. A camera needs to be hauled aloft and it needs to be kept aloft for a long time. Some weapons need to go along with the sensor so the evil doers can be smote a mighty blow. That blow doesn't need to be launched from a really coolio airplane. Anything will really do since it is the weapon that does the job, not the airplane. Lt. Boechler is right about that. Side mounted guns, Hellfires and perhaps guided 120mm mortar shells perhaps will do the trick and none of those need anything special to carry them.

Since it is great fun to debate the merits of which plane to do which job, I suggest an AN-28 would be a better choice than the Caravan. It is in production as the M-28. It is bigger than the Caravan with more cabin volume to hold weapons, sensors and cargo. It is a better short field airplane since it has a wing optimized for that role. It is Russian designed so it is stout. Visibility is better. It has a rear cargo ramp which makes loading and unloading much much easier. All in all a much better airplane for the purpose.

Lastly, the lack of fields in Afghanistan that are fairly short is not a fixed restriction. Those fields may be able to be extended fairly easily using local labor and tools. They don't need to be paved in order for a M-28 or Caravan to make use of them.