Afghanistan — Language Lab Helps Afghan Air Force Take Off

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2010 — The glob­al air com­mu­ni­ty relies on Eng­lish as the stan­dard lan­guage in the cock­pit, which pos­es a big chal­lenge for get­ting the Afghan air force off the ground quick­ly.

A live-in Eng­lish lan­guage lab in Kab­ul, which start­ed as a stop-gap mea­sure for new pilot recruits, has proven to be a tremen­dous suc­cess, Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael R. Boera, com­man­der of NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan’s Com­bined Air Pow­er Tran­si­tion Force, said dur­ing a July 16 “DoDLive” blog­gers round­table.

“Prob­a­bly the sin­gle great­est thing we have done for the advance­ment of Eng­lish lan­guage skills, moti­va­tion and build­ing a pro­fes­sion­al air force for tomor­row, is the stand-up of an avi­a­tion Eng­lish lan­guage immer­sion lab,” Boera explained.

The train­ing pro­gram, called Thun­der Lab, pairs recruits with NATO air advi­sors. It began two months ago while wait­ing for slots to open up in over­seas pilot schools. Based on ear­ly test results that Boera called “phe­nom­e­nal,” the pro­gram is like­ly to be expand­ed from its cur­rent 36 stu­dents and it could trim a year from the over­all time it takes to train pilots.

Boera point­ed out that it takes far longer to turn out a qual­i­fied pilot than it does a foot sol­dier. Depend­ing on indi­vid­ual learn­ing styles, acquir­ing lan­guage pro­fi­cien­cy and tech­ni­cal fly­ing skills can take up to five years, he said.

That’s a long time, con­sid­er­ing the goal of the Com­bined Air Pow­er Tran­si­tion Force. “Our mis­sion is to set the con­di­tions for a pro­fes­sion­al ful­ly inde­pen­dent and oper­a­tional­ly capa­ble Afghan air force ready to meet the needs of Afghanistan today and tomor­row,” Boera said.

NTM‑A stood up in Novem­ber 2009. Boera reports that great strides have been made. He said the size of the Afghan air fleet already has grown from 40 to 50 air­craft and that num­ber is pro­ject­ed to exceed 70 air­craft by next July. The man­pow­er also has increased from 2,800 to more than 3,400, and is expect­ed to reach 5,700 air­men next year.

How­ev­er, those air­men are not all pilots, Boera said. “We teach it all,” he explained, includ­ing dis­ci­plines relat­ed to air­craft oper­a­tions, main­te­nance, mis­sion sup­port and med­ical skills relat­ed to med­ical evac­u­a­tions.

Boera said he has wit­nessed the growth of capa­bil­i­ties among Afghan air­men in the field and cit­ed an exam­ple from a recent MEDEVAC mis­sion.

“I was on a mis­sion about a month ago and we went up to Mazar‑e Sharif and I was immense­ly impressed with a ‘med tech’ who had a take-charge atti­tude on that air­craft; [he was] han­dling the IVs [and] suck­ing chest wounds,” Boera recalled. “There were three patients on board and he was bounc­ing back and forth between the three.”

Boera also cit­ed chal­lenges to meet­ing the over­all mis­sion. For exam­ple, he said, the Com­bined Air Pow­er Tran­si­tion Force team includes some 450 sol­diers, sailors, air­men, marines, civil­ians and con­trac­tors — but they are most­ly from the Unit­ed States and Afghanistan. NATO part­ners from Cana­da, the U.K., and from the Czech Repub­lic and Hun­gary cur­rent­ly com­prise only about 20 mem­bers of the team.

“I’d like to have about 203 [of them] right now,” Boera said, adding that, “We just have not had enough of NATO pony­ing up forces to help with the train­ing mis­sion.” Yet, Boera said he is opti­mistic that more help is on the way.

In addi­tion to look­ing for more train­ers, Boera is engaged in recruit­ing more Afghan air force offi­cers. He said cur­rent plans extend to 2016, when pro­jec­tions call for the Afghan air force to include some 8,000 mem­bers.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)