April 22, 2016 (by Jenny Gordon) - When two C-130H aircraft arrived at Robins in the fall of 2013, each would play a significant role nearly two years later in a country over 7,000 miles away.
Afghan Air Force C-130H #74-1675 takes off from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 13, 2015. [USAF photo by TSgt. Joseph Swafford]
The nose of one aircraft, scheduled to be retired, served as a donor to a second C-130. The second had experienced a hard landing and suffered structural damage to its nose, prior to its arrival for unscheduled depot level maintenance at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex.
It was that second C-130 that received the most attention - a new nose section that would not only breathe new life into the aircraft, but assist with efforts to provide increased tactical airlift capabilities and mobility operations throughout Afghanistan.
The successful PDM
of that C-130 resulted in a successful aircraft delivery supporting operations with the Afghan Air Force.
The C-130 with the donor nose was the fourth aircraft delivered to the country in June 2015. Since its arrival this year, it has continued to serve as a valuable resource to the AAF.
"Adding a fourth aircraft to the Afghan Air Force's C-130 fleet has led to a significant increase in Afghanistan's strategic airlift capabilities," said Lt. Col. Michael Morales, 538th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander, with Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air.
TAAC-Air groups work to support NATO's Resolute Support mission, which trains, advises and assists Afghan partners to develop a sustainable air force.
"The C-130's night, all-weather airlift capability provides vital, rapid and agile support to Afghan National Defense Security Force counterinsurgency operations throughout the country," he said.
Operational impact of the AAF's C-130 fleet can already be felt with the addition of that fourth C-130, on which employees at Robins installed a new nose section and a new center wing box.
Cargo shipments increased by 249 percent; casualty evacuation movement up 276 percent; and passenger movements increased 142 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to Morales.
From its arrival last June to January of this year, that C-130H has flown over 100 flying hours with more than 80 sorties; supported over 150 medical evacuations; and assisted with flying more than 60,000 cargo pounds.
But as with any weapon system in the Defense Department inventory, ongoing maintenance and sustainment is critical in ensuring future needs will be met.
A Robins team plays a support role in further assisting with the ongoing needs of the four Afghan C-130s. That can include awarding and sustaining contracts to tech order responsibilities.
"Anything that an active duty C-130 unit would normally do, the contractor does that within their capabilities. We provide oversight for them to do that," said Robert Burleigh, Afghanistan Security Assistance program manager. "That mindset of a high density/low demand asset really comes into play. They fly them every day, and use them to fly troops in and around the country, as well as move their wounded around. The more they have available and the more crews they have trained to fly, the better off they are in fighting that war. In our program, it's one day at a time, because something always changes."
Bill Blunk, a logistician with the program office here, touched on the complex situation that crews face.
"This program is unique in that we have a very small number of assets. With four aircraft, our goal is to train the Afghans - but you're doing it in a war zone," he said. "Those same assets training air crews are also dropping off combat troops into hot zones."
"We're on the tail end of the logistics trail. Here in the states you can just pick up the phone and get a part. In Kabul, when you don't have a part, you have to source it from the states, which can take a week or longer."
Rob Townsend who works in the Robins program office, spends much of his time with his eyes and ears on the ground in Afghanistan - some nine and a half hours away.
Typical days for the aircraft include routine inspections and service to ensure its mission readiness. Its daily flying mission provides the AAF with airlift capability throughout the country, delivering troops and equipment to combat terrorism and support weapon systems throughout the country, according to Townsend.
Coordination is a must, he said, as facilities are few and far between, so support for both AAF training and flying missions is essential.
"TAAC-Air, the Robins Program Management Office and technicians continue to provide the AAF with a reliable medium airlift capability to support Afghan missions, even when faced with the challenges of environment and security," he said. "The aircraft is vital to the mission - and displayed each time it breaks ground and returns home in Kabul."