Donald Trump’s executive order to ban immigrants from seven, largely muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa, casts uncertainty of Iraqi Air Force F-16 training in Tucson in the US. According to various sources, US and Iraqi diplomats are working on ways to exempt Iraqi student pilots from the ban.
The Iraqi Air Force is in the process of receiving 36 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets purchased in 2011. Pilot training on these advanced jets is done in Tucson, Arizona, where the first Iraqi aircraft arrived over two years ago. Since then, pilots from Iraq stayed in Tucson to learn to fly the F-16.
According to critics, the ban that was announced on Friday has all the marks of an executive order that was not thought out properly. It took the US State Departement and the Pentagon by surprise.
According to officials, an agreement on continued Iraqi F-16 training seems likely. US servicemen and Iraqi personnel have been working together closely for the last few year, not in the least to defeat so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq.
Iraq is gaining an increasingly potent F-16 force at Balad airbase near Baghdad. The number of F-16s jets available for the fighter against so-called Islamic State (IS) has grown to ten after this week’s delivery of four more jets.
The Iraqi Air Force has 36 F-16s on order from Lockheed Martin. A number of aircraft remains stationed in the US for pilot training in Tucson, Arizona, while most of the jets will head to Iraq to join the Iraq Air Force’s 9 squadron at Balad. From there, the Iraqi F-16 have already been used in battling IS.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Air Force also gains more and more Aero Vodochody L-159 trainer and light attack jets from the Czech Republic. Furthermore, the first Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50 Golden Eagle should soon also find its way to Iraq.
The Iraqi Air Force’s Mil Mi-28NE Night Hunter fleet is now complete, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. That means that 15 of these dedicated attack helicopters are now operating from air bases and forward operation bases somewhere in the Southwest Asian nation.
Officially the aircraft, a product of the Mil design bureau and manufacturer Russian Helicopters, will be used for so-called “anti-terrorist operations”. In reality that means fighting the war against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS / ISIL / Daesh) forces.
Sources in Baghdad say that some of the Mi-28NEs delivered earlier were enrolled in supporting ground forces in the Fallujah and Ramadi areas, where the Iraqi army is pushing back the ISIS troops. Some of the 28 Mi-35M Hind choppers have been deployed as well.
Reports say that this year alone six Iraqi Air Force helicopters were lost in combat, giving hopes to Russian Helicopters to deliver even more choppers to Baghdad in the future. Although the rotary wing lost may have been some of the six remaining Aérospatiale SA342 Gazelles or ten Bell 206s.
Royal Netherlands Air Forc (RNLAF) F-16s ended operations over Iraq and Syria on Tuesday 28 June. Since deploying to the area in October 2014, Dutch crews chalked up 2,100 mission, during 1,800 of which weapons were deployed. The Dutch jets will return home on 30 June while Belgian F-16s take their place.
The RNLAF operated from Jordan throughout the deployment, first with six jets plus two reserved and eventually with four jets plus two reserves.
The return marks a rare opportunity for RNLAF crews to catch some breath. Dutch F-16s have actively involved in many conflicts for decades. In the early Nineties, Dutch Vipers supported a no-fly zone over Bosnia. Several years later, they took part in the air war over Kosovo. Also, the RNLAF took part in operations over Afghanistan for many years. In 2011, the Dutch saw limited action during the allied campaign over Libya.
The next scheduled deployment is in 2017, when the Dutch take their turn in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states.
Polish Minister of Defence Antoni Macierewicz has confirmed plans to deploy four F-16 fighters for Middle East reconaissance missions, supporting coalition against so-called ISIS. The MoD decision still needs to be accepted by Polish prime minister and president, but according to MoD Chief, planning is already finished and crews are ready.
The contingent of four fighter aircraft and up to 150 personnel should be based in Kuwait. Further Polish support of coalition effort would be 60 special forces operators, deployed to Iraq. Their tasks would cover advising and training of iraqi special forces personnel.
Aircraft should be present in the operations area before Warsaw’s NATO Summit, beginning on 8th of July. Jastrzabs, as they are known in Polish AF, would be tasked with reconaissance missions only. Polish Air Force flies 48 F-16 block 52+, which are equipped with Goodrich DB-110 reconaissanse pods.
The same recce tasks are now fulfilled in the ISIS’ conflict area by Luftwaffe Tornados. Six German fighter-bombers and Airbus A310 MRTT tanker are now based in Incirlik in Turkey.