Nato-Russia Council

Supporting Afghanistan’s Helicopters: 10 Years 10 Stories Anniversary Feature


NRC Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund Supporting Afghanistan's Helicopters

In the space of two years the NRC Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund has already become one of the NRC’s most high profile and successful cooperative projects.

In order to support the sustainability of the Afghan Air Force's fleet of 36 Mi-17 and 11 Mi-35 helicopters, the NATO-Russia Council established a Trust Fund project, which supports Afghan Air Force helicopter maintenance personnel, by training Afghan technicians in Russia and providing helicopter spare parts.

This assistance will support reliable and sustainable Afghan Helicopter Operations, which will be particularly important in the context of a post 2014 environment and in developing the AAF’s self sufficiency.

Mi-17 helicopters are a crucial component of the AAF’s capabilities, and a significant operational advantage for the Afghan National Security Forces in dealing with insurgent activity. Mi-17 helicopters are particularly important in Afghanistan’s mountainous regions, because they are particularly suited to flying at high altitudes with their powerful twin engines. The helicopters are vital for providing remote outposts, in critical areas, with supplies and ensuring safe movement of troops and police.

Mi-17 Helicopter Delivering Supplies in Afghanistan
Mi-17 Helicopter resupplying an Afghan National Police mountain outpost

Rapid Progress

The project has progressed rapidly with Germany as lead nation since March 2011, when it was officially launched at an NRC Ministerial meeting in Berlin. The NATO Support Agency (NSPA) was appointed to execute the project, and has since been responsible for arranging training courses, managing nations’ contributions and all other aspects of the project. So far over $20m has been contributed by NRC nations to complete phase 1 of the project, made up of cash contributions, which have been used to implement the project and training, and in kind contributions of materials and helicopter spare parts.

Afghan Maintenance Technicians
Afghan technicians take a class inside an Mi-17 in Novosibirsk

The project’s success

In little over a year from the project’s April 2011 launch, the first group of Afghan Air Force helicopter maintenance technicians arrived in Russia to start their training course at the Novosibirsk Aircraft Repair Plant. Since then 19 Afghan technicians have been trained and certified in Russia, and then reintegrated into their maintenance roles in the AAF. The first group of Technicians graduated this summer, and by the end of phase 1 of the project, in April 2013, 30 technicians will have completed the 90 day theoretical and practical training course. The NRC will also train two Mi-17 helicopter maintenance instructors in Croatia, giving the AAF internal capability for training their own maintenance technicians in the future.

The significant contributions from NRC nations, and the speed and efficiency with which the project has been progressed, are all indications of the project’s significance in terms of mutual security interests, and the importance of a fully operational fleet of Mi-17 helicopters to the future security and stability of Afghanistan. The success of the project has demonstrated what can be achieved by the NRC when nations cooperate on practical projects towards their shared interest in ensuring security and stability in Afghanistan

Afghan Maintenance Technicians
Afghan technicians receiving hands on technical training in Novosibirsk

The Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund has already helped bring grounded helicopters back into operations. By the end of the first phase much needed priority spare parts for the Mi-17 fleet, will have been delivered to the AAF, along with an additional purchase of Mi-35 spare parts nearly three quarters of the Mi-35 fleet will have been return to operational condition.

Most importantly, the HMTF has developed the Afghan Air Force’s current and future capabilities, ensuring effective helicopter operations and maintenance now and for years to come, by not only providing training for Afghan technicians but also giving the AAF the ability to train their own technicians in the future. This will be crucial in ensuring stability and security in Afghanistan in a post 2014 environment.