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.
The US has approved an Iraqi request for weapons for its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16s. The request and subsequent approval gives more insight into the capabilities Iraqi Air Force F-16 should offer in the near future, for example in the fight against Daesh forces. For a long time, the US was hesitant to even allow the F-16s to be delivered to Iraq in fear of Islamic rebels taking over the country.
The approval concerns twenty Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), 24 AIM-9M Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, 150 AGM-65D Maverick air-to-ground missiles, no less than 14,120 500lb General Purpose (GP) guided or unguided bombs, 2,400 similar 2,000 lb GP bombs, plus 8,400 Laser Guided Bomb (LGB) Paveway tail kits. Support, training and maintenance are included in the contract as well.
The Iraqi Air Force is to gain a considerably strike capability if it indeed pushes ahead with the purchase at an estimated cost of The estimated cost is 1.95 billion USD.
The first of 36 Iraqi F-16s flew for the first time on 7 May 2014. The first batch of aircraft was first send to Tucson, Arizona, for training. In reality, the US wasn’t eager to send the aircraft to Iraq as the country – or at least the airbase the F-16s were planned to go – was on the verge of being overrun by Daesh forces.
In July 2015, the first four aircraft finally arrived in Iraq. Two more follow this January.
UPDATED 4 November | Eight former Czech Air Force L-159 Alca trainer and light attack aircaft are heading to Iraq in November. They will join the Iraqi Air Force in a deal brokered by US company Draken International. A total of 21 Aero Vodochody L-159 will transfer to Draken International, with an initial eight of those moving on to Iraq. Four more are to follow, plus three spares.
UPDATE | The first L-159s left the Czech Republic on Wednesday 4 November, wearing Iraqi markings. See pics below.
The deal has been in the works for quite some time, with negotiations lasting 18 months and signatures finally inked in 2014. The number of aircaft sold varied a little while talks lasted, but both parties settled for 21 in the end. The Czech Air Force still has 24 L-159 Alcas in service with 212 squadron at Čáslav airbase.