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Afghan air force's wait continues

Air Force Maj. Gen. Tod Wolters was expansive about the war in Afghanistan, but less so on Tuesday about his new job in getting programs through Congress.

“We’re still working the light air support contract” was how Wolters put it on the long-stalled effort by the Air Force to buy turboprop close-air support aircraft for the Afghan air force.

The Air Force wanted to spend $355 million for 20 A-29 Super Tucano attack planes made by Brazil, but the contract had to be scrapped after Air Force leaders admitted their acquisitions team had made errors in the documentation supporting the award decision.

Hawker Beechcraft, which offered a modified AT-6 training plane, was also in competition for the contract to provide the planes to the Afghan air force.

The ragtag Afghan air force hasn’t been faring much better on getting new rotary aircraft. The Pentagon pushed a controversial $365 million deal for 26 Mi17 helicopters from Rosobornexport, the Russian export firm that is also supplying Syria.

Protests came from Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle who demanded the Defense Department buy American. The helicopters have yet to arrive, and Pentagon officials for weeks have declined to say where they are.

When asked about the status of the helicopter deal, Wolters, the new chief Congressional liason for the Air Force, said “I just don’t know.” To be fair, the U.S. Army has taken the lead on this deal.

Wolters spoke in a brief huddle with reporters after addressing the Air Force Association on the air war in Afghanistan, where until May he was commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan, and also deputy commander for Air, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

Wolters said the coalition suffered a major setback when the Afghan parliament recently moved to sack Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi. President Hamid Karzai has since moved to retain Wardak in his inner circle by making him a senior adviser.

Wolters said a major accomplishment on his watch in Afghanistan came in boosting the daily flying hours for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

The Air Force has been flying 600 hours of ISR daily and the Army, with its own ISR platforms, has been doing more than 300 hours, Wolters said. Add in another 300 hours of ISR flown by coalition partner nations and it amounts to more that 1,200 hours daily, he said.

Most of the ISR requested by ground commanders has been in the form of full-motion video, Wolters said.

“It’s pretty powerful stuff,” he said. “Full-motion video has allowed for situational awareness that is better than any previous conflict ever,” Wolters said.

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