Afghanistan, Air Force, tech

Predator ops in Afghanistan-landing “paper planes” in a crosswind

scr_090915-NG-9999X-001This morning, I got a chance to participate in a blogger roundtable Q&A with Brig. Gen. Guy M. Walsh, commander of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan. Walsh, who until recently commanded the 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard out of Baltimore, took command of the new 451st Air Expeditionary Wing in Kandahar in July.

The 451st operates an interesting mixed bag of aircraft: roughly a dozen A-10 close air support aircraft, C-130j combat airlift aircraft, the HH-60 “Pave Hawk” combat search and rescue variant of the Blackhawk,  a EC-130 Compass Call  and a joint expeditionary deployment of  Navy and Marine Corps EA6-B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft to provide jamming of Taliban cell phone and radio communications and remote-detonated IEDs, and over 50 unmanned aerial systems, including Predators and Reapers.

There have been a number of Predator crashes in Afghanistan recently; over the weekend, the Air Force had to shoot down a Reaper UAV that had failed to go into fail-safe when positive control was lost, and was flying north out of Afghani airspace. According to a written statement from Office of the Secretary of Defense Chris Isleib earlier this year, “Since 1994 the Air Force has procured 195 Predators. 65 have been lost due to Class A mishaps.”  Of those aircraft lost in accidents,  36 percent were attributed to human error. And 15 percent of accidents occurred during landing.

I asked Brig. Gen. Walsh about the challenges of operating the Predator and other UASs in Afghanistan.  He said that one of the biggest challenges pilots were facing when he arrived was dealing with the handling characteristics of the Predator at the end of a mission, when it was flying extremely light, in high crosswinds.  He said it could be like “trying to fly a paper airplane.”

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Afghanistan, Coalition/Allies, Defense Department, Soutwest Asia

Stavridis: Afghanistan Situation Challenging, But Winnable

DefenseLink News Article: Stavridis: Afghanistan Situation Challenging, But Winnable.

The situation in Afghanistan is “extremely serious,” Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis wrote, but he expressed confidence that “the coalition, working with the Afghan people, will ultimately win.”

Adm. Stavridis, the new NATO commander and former commander of US Southern Command, is at least not pulling punches.  He laid out what he sees as the keys to success in Afghanistan, and none of them are easy. Stopping collateral damage, balancing civil and military activities, and training the Afghan forces–all of these are pretty traditional counterinsurgency tasks made all the much harder by the geography and political economy of Afghanistan.  And then there’s owning the information war:

— Effective strategic communication. Messages must be well defined and communicated to the citizens of Afghanistan as well as to the 42 nations that make up the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force there, Stavridis said. Meanwhile, he cited the need for a truthful, realistic antidote to negative Taliban messaging.