Saturday, July 17, 2010

Iraqi Air Force To Begin Training On F-16 Fighters

Since 2008 Iraq has been talking about buying American F-16 jets from Lockheed Martin. In March 2010 they officially put in a request for 24 of the fighters. The planes are due to be delivered by 2012-2013. Baghdad is hoping to increase that number to 96 by 2020. The second stage in acquiring the planes has just started as it was announced in July that 10 pilots would begin training on the fighters. This is another step in Iraq being able to protect itself from foreign threats.

As of today, Iraq has no real air defense, and no fighters to protect its skies. The Air Force has just over 4,000 officers, and its current inventory includes 44 training planes, 36 transports, 19 surveillance/reconnaissance aircraft, 3 ground attack planes, and some helicopters. In 2009 the U.S. donated a radar system to cover northern Iraq, with another on its way for southern Iraq, but that still left central and western Iraq unguarded. That’s a far cry from what the Iraqi Air Force was in the past. In the late 1980s under Saddam it had 750 combat aircraft, 40,000 officers, and 24 bases. The Gulf War destroyed most of that, and international sanctions led to many of the remaining planes to be stripped for spare parts. By the time of the U.S. invasion, Iraq was down to only 100 serviceable jets.

Acquiring the F-16s and getting the proper support for them in place is still years away. Until that happens Iraq will have to depend upon the United States for air support. By the end of 2011 however all U.S. military personnel are supposed to exit the country as part of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). By that time Iraq will not have the ability to defend itself, so a new agreement will have to be worked out between Baghdad and Washington so that U.S. forces can stay in the country. That will be the next big challenge in U.S.-Iraq relations as there are plenty in Iraq’s parliament who are opposed to any U.S. presence.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Iraq to purchase F-16 fighters this year,” 4/1/09

Bumiller, Elisabeth, “Iraq Can’t Defend Its Skies by Pullout Date, U.S. Says,” New York Times, 7/29/09

Juul, Peter, “Re-Arming Iraq,” Wonk Room Blog, 1/14/09

Kratovac, Katarina, “Nascent Iraqi air force struggles to rebuild as US exit nears, hopes to get F-16 fighter jets,” Associated Press, 4/22/10

Lake, Eli, “Iraqi army wants U.S. help past withdrawal deadline,” Washington Times, 12/8/09

Sahib, Mazin, “rearming the Iraqi army,” Niqash, 10/23/09

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/10

World Tribune, “Iraq’s makes wish list official: Two dozen F-16s,” 4/14/10
- “Iraqi pilots to be trained in plan to acquire F-16s,” 7/15/10

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