Iraq will purchase 516 military aircraft from the United States and France for its new Air Force, a senior Iraqi military official said this week. The planes and helicopters will provide Iraq with its first significant air combat and strike capability, and are expected to cost billions of dollars.
General Nasier Abadi, vice chief of staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces, announced the initial orders on Nov. 2. The aircraft would be delivered to Iraq from 2011 to 2015. Iraq’s current force has fewer than 100 aircraft. None of the aircraft currently in the Iraqi Air Force are strike planes or jets.
The first order is for 108 combat aircraft from the US and France, and is to be delivered in 2011. The aircraft on Iraq’s shopping list provides insight into how Iraqis hope to configure their Air Force.
The Iraqi Security Forces are being upgraded in three stages. Each stage consists of five years. The first stage, in progress, began in 2006 and will last until 2011. Stage one is intended to build a basic force.
The second stage is designed to build the Air Force’s capabilities. This stage will last from 2011 to 2015. The arms purchases for the beginning of stage two have been and are being announced.
The third stage is to complete the training and improvements. Details of this stage are limited and this article will not address it. The focus of this article is on the announced arms purchases and what they indicate for stage two developments in the Iraqi Air Force.
The current focus of Iraqi Air Force development is building up support infrastructure and training personnel. The plan is to have 6,000 personnel and 10 air bases established to support the squadrons by 2011. However, it usually takes two years from the time an aircraft is ordered until it is delivered. This is why the Iraqi Air Force has started orders for Stage two.
During stage two, the Iraqi Air Force will receive 516 aircraft. The Iraqi Air Force has ordered 36 F16 fighters, 24 AT-6B trainers, 24 EC-635 Utility/Attack Helos, and 24 Bell-407 Armed Recon Helos, all to be delivered in 2011. The trainer aircraft are probably a one-time buy. The others are probably the first of five yearly deliveries, with the remaining extras being additional fighters. Twenty-four aircraft are standard for an Iraqi helicopter squadron and 18 aircraft appears to be the standard for the fighter squadrons.
Since 516 aircraft are being bought for delivery 2011-2015, and 108 are already ordered for delivery in 2011, this means the other 408 remain for the period 2012-2015, and the Iraqis will purchase 102 aircraft per year. There are 84 aircraft accounted for in the helicopter and fighter purchases, leaving 18 per year not accounted for. The standard number of aircraft in a fighter squadron is 18, which means that they are buying a training squadron for 2011 and then additional fighters for the remaining four years. Aircraft deliveries for 2011-2015 work out to the following mix of squadrons:
• 2011: 2 fighter, 1 trainer, 1 armed recon helo, and 1 attack helo Squadron.
• 2012: 3 fighter, 1 armed recon helo, and 1 utility/attack helo squadron.
• 2013: 3 fighter, 1 armed recon helo, and 1 utility/attack helo squadron.
• 2014: 3 fighter, 1 armed recon helo, and 1 utility/attack helo squadron.
• 2015: 3 fighter, 1 armed recon helo, and 1 utility/attack helo squadron.
• Total of 25 squadrons (14 fighter, 1 trainer, 5 armed recon helo, and 5 attack helo squadrons).
There are seven existing Iraqi squadrons: one helicopter training (12th), one transport (23rd), two reconnaissance (3rd and 70th), one helicopter transport (4th), one utility/search and rescue helicopter (2nd), and one special operations squadron (15th-in training). There are at least two, and up to six, additional squadrons planned before 2011, judging from aircraft already being delivered: one to three transport helo, one to two reconnaissance, and one more transport squadron. Some of the helicopter transports could be used for special operations.
• Current Squadrons: 7 (1 transport, 2 recon, 1 helo training, 1 helo transport, 1 utility/search and rescue, and 1 special operations squadron).
• Squadrons adding prior to 2011: 2-6 (1 transport, 1-2 recon, and 1-3 helo transport).
• Total projected Squadrons by end of 2015: 34-38 (14 fighter, 1 trainer, 2 transport, 3-4 recon, 1 helo training, 2-4 helo transport, 1 util/SAR, 1 SOS, 5 armed recon helo, and 5 attack helo squadrons).
The December 2007 9010 Quarterly Report to Congress’ mention of a planned target end strength of 38 squadrons fits this projection. Of note, the Lasta-95 trainer purchase is not included in this as there are some question as to whether they will ever be delivered. The helicopter purchases indicate that an aviation brigade is planned to support each of the four planned Iraqi Army Corps.
While all these squadrons will not be fully trained at the end of 2015, this schedule indicates that most, if not all of the squadrons will have their aircraft by the end of 2015. This fits with the Minister of Defense’s statement that they should be independent in 2018 to 2020. He was allowing for training time, slippage in training time, budget delays, and delays in deliveries. The Iraqi Air Force is developing, but it will not be ready until sometime during stage three (2016-2020) of the Iraqi Security Force development plan.