August 13, 2014: Strategy Page
As expected the Afghans are having a hard time maintaining the aircraft and vehicles they have received, mainly from the U.S., for their security forces. The problem is a growing number of these vehicles and aircraft are inoperable because of maintenance issues. Afghan officers complain that they cannot find or train enough Afghans to keep this stuff in running condition. Foreigners observe that corruption, low education levels, and stiff competition for skilled Afghans has meant that the Afghan military is unable to adequately maintain and repair the aircraft and vehicles they have.
Key personnel are hired away by civilian firms that can pay more. There are not a lot of Afghans capable of becoming aircraft maintenance technicians to begin with. Afghanistan has the lowest education levels in Eurasia and the lowest literacy rate. Foreign donors insist that the air force recruit and train local maintenance personnel. That can be done, with difficulty. But the good ones soon get hired away from civilian firms or immigrate. Bringing in foreigners to maintain this equipment, as many Arab countries do, is difficult in Afghanistan which is a dangerous place for foreigners, even before the Taliban appeared. Using foreigners also costs more than Afghanistan can afford.
The corruption means that needed spare parts never arrive because the money for their purchase was stolen. Or if the parts are on hand, they often disappear into the black market. It's all part of the local culture, which means that if you have Afghans operating and maintaining vehicles those that breakdown will tend to stay down and if this involves aircraft, those aircraft won't be flying much. Anything electronic that stops working tends to stay stat way, unless it involves something really simple like changing batteries or perhaps an easily replaced part (like a light bulb or antenna).
It’s not just the mechanics and electronic technicians that are in short supply there is also a shortage of literate people to handle basic things like maintaining inventories of parts, tools and even the weapons and vehicles themselves. Lack of inventory control means a lot of theft does not get detected for a while, if ever. Even broken stuff gets stolen because entrepreneurs can find someone who will fix an item that can then be sold on the black market.
This maintenance crises is causing some serious problems with the mobility of the Afghan ground forces. With more and more helicopters and transports grounded because of maintenance problems there’s no way to get reinforcements to where they are needed in a hurry. It’s worse on the ground where thousands of vehicles, from pickup trucks to armored vehicles are inoperable. This is particularly crucial with the primary armored combat vehicles in the Afghan army; the ASVs.
The U.S. Army bought over 600 M1117 ASVs (Armored Security Vehicles) for the Afghan Army. These were used, as American Army M1117s are, for security duties and most of them are operated by the seven battalions of the elite Mobile Strike Force. These vehicles can mount either 12.7mm machine-guns or Mk19 40mm automatic grenade launchers in their turrets. The vehicles cost about $900,000 each.
The ASV was, in effect, one of the first MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) to get to Iraq (although it no longer qualifies as a proper MRAP). Originally developed in the 1990s for use by MPs in combat zones, only a few were bought initially. It was found that for Balkan peacekeeping, existing armored vehicles were adequate, and that in the narrow streets of Balkan towns, the ASV was too wide to be very maneuverable. Then came Iraq, and suddenly, the ASV was very popular. The army got lots more because military police like these vehicles a lot. The MPs originally wanted 2,000 ASVs, but before Iraq, were told they would be lucky to get a hundred. After 2004 the MPs got all they wanted.
The ASV is a 15 ton 4x4 armored car that is built to handle the kind of combat damage encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ASVs are, unlike armored hummers, built from the ground up as an armored truck. ASVs are 6.5 meters (20 feet) long and 2.75 meters (8.5 feet) wide, making them a bit larger than hummers. The ASV is heavy enough to survive most roadside bombs and keep going. The ASV is bullet, and RPG proof. The turret is the same one used on the U.S. Marine Corps LAV. When the marines went shopping for armored trucks, however, they passed on the ASV. This is believed to be mainly because most armored trucks have more room inside. The ASV carries a crew of three. Over 2,400 have been delivered (some to foreign customers) so far.