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Air Advising in Afghanistan: Building an Organization in Flight
Posted Tuesday, September 04, 2018


AFIT alumni Col Matthew Douglas, USAF Ret. (M.S. Logistics Management, 2003) and Dr. Jonathan Ritschel (M.S. Cost Analysis, 2003, DG)  wrote an article titled “Air Advising in Afghanistan: Building an Organization in Flight”  published in the Air & Space Power Journal, Volume 32 Issue 3, Fall 2018. The full article can be read on pages 85-91 here.  An excerpt of the article is below.

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It is well-known that since 9/11, the US military and its coalition partners have worked with the Afghan government and its military forces to battle an insurgency. At the end of 2014, the majority of US and coalition military forces left Afghanistan. What may be less known is that, for the last several years, a small contingent of American and coalition air advisors have been helping the Afghans rebuild their air force from the ground up. These advisors work daily with Afghanistan Air Force (AAF) leaders to help them build and implement effective organizations, capabilities, technologies, programs, and processes.

Challenges Soar
During the past four years, US and coalition personnel have largely transitioned from “doing” the mission to “training, advising, and assisting” the mission. Air advisors are responsible for helping Afghan leaders develop the AAF into a professional, capable, and sustainable organization. Advisors are working to stabilize an AAF that was pushed to the forefront of the conflict at a time when its leaders, air platforms, and infrastructure were ill-equipped to take on full responsibility for the future of a quickly growing and changing organization.

Given this situation, the air advisor role can be highly complex and dynamic. Advisor duties are akin to building an aircraft in flight while it’s getting shot at. Constantly changing mission requirements, an influx of new technologies, and the potential severity of failure drive the requirement for constant management “innovation.” In many areas, advisors must encourage the type of innovation that alters organizational structure, policy, and processes to adapt to ever-changing conditions and improve AAF performance.

However, in this environment management innovation can sometimes seem like a far-fetched objective. Many AAF leaders, particularly in fleet sustainment areas, such as aviation maintenance and logistics, were trained under the Soviet (and later, Russian) system and are not used to or necessarily accepting of Western management and sustainment concepts. Challenges to the status quo are not common in this environment. Therefore, typical innovation diffusion approaches that rely on grass roots initiative and implementation, as encouraged in Western cultures, are often infeasible. Consider other challenges such as a language barrier, vast cultural differences, undeveloped leadership skills, corruption, a paucity of human capital, and a lack of a clear mission end state, and one begins to understand the situation air advisors face in helping the AAF develop and implement new programs and processes in their organization.

Read the remainder of the article here.