US keeps Iraqi F-16s close

Captured during its first flight is the first Iraq Air Force F-16. (Image © Lockheed Martin – Liz Kaszynski)

Anyone who can read between the lines, saw it coming from miles away: brand new Iraqi Air Force F-16s are waiting to fly to Iraq, but the US has decided not to allow the potent aircraft to be flown to the Islamic State (ISIS) forces plagued country. The aircraft will instead be used in Tucson, Arizona, to train Iraqi Air Force pilots, the US confirmed on Monday 10 November.

The move comes as no surprise, as the delivery of the first batch of Iraq Air Force F-16s from the Lockheed Martin production facility in Fort Worth, was already delayed by two months. Deliveries should have started in September, but the advance of ISIS forces have understandably caused fold feet with US authorities. These are not aircraft to fall into unwanted hands.

The first of 36 state of the art F-16 block 52 fighter aircraft first flew last May in the US. The first three aircraft will now not be ferried to Iraq, but be flown to Tucson to join the Arizona Air National Guard F-16 training unit based there. A fourth aircraft will join those in January, with three more expected by May 2015. According to the US Department of Defense, 26 Iraqi pilots will receive their training in Tucson, with another 16 to follow.

The fleet of Iraqi F-16s was planned to be housed at Balad Airbase, some 80 kilometers North of Baghdad. Earlier this year, the US Department of Defence awarded Sallyport Global Services a 215 million US dollar contract (fixed-price) to renovate and reconstruct key facilities at the airbase. Sources now say as a result of ISIS-ignited turmoil, the Balad runway is deemed unsuitable for F-16 operations.

The government of Iray probably won’t be pleased by the US decision. Earlier this year, it practically begged the US for the F-16s, as they would be valuable in the fight against ISIS. As a last resort, Iraq hastily reinforced its air force with Russia-supplied Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoots, with some Iranian aircraft in the mix as well.

The US has prevented F-16 deliveries to foreign nations before. In the nineties, a batch of 28 Pakistani F-16s fell victim to a US arms embargo. Those brand new aircraft were also sent to Tucson, however not for training, but for storage in the desert. In 2013, the US halted the delivery of modern block 52 F-16s to Egypt.

© 2014 editor Elmer van Hest