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 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.
UPDATED WITH VIDEO | The Iraqi Air Force is finally getting its long-awaited Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon combat jets. The first four Vipers were first spotted making a stop-over at Lajes on the Azores, an island owned by Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, en route to Balad Airbase in their new homeland. They arrived there on 13 July.
At least four other Iraqi Air Force F-16C/Ds – dubbed F-16IQ – remain operational at Tuscon International Airport, since Iraqi flight and ground crew training started there on 16 December 2014. Fearing use of the weapons against its own population – like what happened in the past against the Kurds – or having the jets falling into the hands of ISIS or Iran the US has downgraded the F-16s somewhat and doesn’t allow Iraq to have the most modern weapon technology on their new Vipers.
With the first multi-role combat jets for Iraq since the 2003 American-led invasion, the successively toppling of then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and successively destruction of the Iraqi military, the Air Force of the strategically located and large Southwest Asian nation finally seems to slowly grow up again. Balad Airbase has been waiting for the F-16s for more than a year now.
UPDATE 27 June | The F-16 that crashed and ingnited a gas pipe line near Douglas Municipal Airport on 24 June 2015 during a evening training mission was in fact an Iraqi Air Force jet, piloted by Brig. Gen. Rasid Mohammed Sadiq Hasan. The Iraqi ministry of Defense in Baghdad and the US Air Force on Friday 26 June confirmed the pilot did not survive the crash.
Emergency services responded around 20:00 local time (03:00 UTC/GMT) to a call from a woman who said “a plane is burning in my front yard”, a police spokesperson said. It is unknown at this point if the pilot tried to eject before impact. Fire crews had difficulty reaching the site because of the gas pipe lines in the area and the bush fire ignited by the crash.
The crash is a shock to the Iraqi Air Force crews training with the Arizona ANG’s 162nd Wing since December 2014 on their future front-line multi-role fighter. With fellow countrymen back home in a fierce battle against the so-called Islamic State forces (ISIS / ISIL), Iraq is very much in need of the 36 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52s it has ordered.
Although many policy makers and political watchers doubt that the Iraqi Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon will ever fly in the skies in its destined homeland, because of concerns about them falling into ISIS hands, the first pair of two-seat F-16Ds landed at Tucson International Airport in Arizona to start flight training on 16 December 2014. Apart from the Iraqi crews, fighter pilots of the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore and Japan are a common sight on the training base that is 100 miles (160 km) from the crash site.
Before the crash the Iraqi Air Force continent at Tuscon was estimated to have had eight operational F-16s, judging the planned delivery schedule. First delivery flights to Iraq are scheduled for later this year, after much initial delays and hesitation by the US government.