NATO-Russia Council expands Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund Project for Afghanistan
Building on the successful completion of the first phase of the Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund Project, NATO-Russia Council (NRC) foreign ministers agreed on 23 April to expand the project into new areas. The project is helping the Afghan Air Force (AAF) to develop the capabilities needed to operate and maintain its fleet of helicopters independently, including much-needed spare parts and technical training.
“This project is of great value to Afghanistan and it shows that NATO-Russia Council efforts can make a vital contribution to security and stability in Afghanistan,” said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He underlined that the NRC shared “a common vision for Afghanistan, as a country that is secure, stable and at peace with itself and the wider region.”
Maintenance training, which had previously focused on Mi-17 helicopters, will now be offered for Mi-35s. Critical spare parts required to repair seven Mi-35 helicopters, which are currently non-operational, will also be provided.
Moreover, new support will be directed at developing the AAF’s medical evacuation capacity. Conversion kits will be provided to allow Mi-17s to be converted into flying ambulances, equipped to provide intensive medical care using specialised medical equipment. The kits will accommodate up to two patients and provide space for accompanying medical personnel en route to a medical treatment facility.
Promoting AAF self-sufficiency
The OAO Novosibirsk Aircraft Repair Plant in Russia is serving as the main training centre for Afghan maintenance personnel under the project. Thirty Afghan maintenance personnel – which represents about 20 per cent of AAF helicopter technicians – successfully completed initial training during the first phase of the project. Selected Afghan personnel also participated in a train-the-trainer course provided by the Croatian Air Force.
More specialised and intermediate maintenance training will be offered during the second phase. This will promote the self-sufficiency of the AAF, which will be essential after full responsibility for security in Afghanistan has been transferred to the Afghan National Security Forces and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has withdrawn at the end of 2014.
The AAF currently operates 36 Mi-17 and 8 Mi-35 helicopters. Such aircraft are essential for the safe movement of troops and supplies in remote regions, which have poor transportation infrastructure, extreme climatic and environmental conditions, and the added risk of attack from insurgents. They also conduct escort missions for daylight counter-narcotics operations.
The Trust Fund project
The NRC Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund project was officially launched in March 2011 at the NRC ministerial meeting in Berlin with Germany acting as the lead nation and the NATO Support Agency (formerly the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency) serving as the project’s executing agent.
During the first phase, financial and in-kind contributions to the Trust Fund project by Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Russia, Turkey and the United States amounted to approximately $23 million.
Lead nation Germany as well as the Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey have already agreed to provide further financial support for the second phase, and the United States has offered in-kind contributions of spare parts.