Forces: Iraqi Air Force Expansion Plans


November 10,2008: Over the next 18 months, Iraq plans to expand its air force to over 130 aircraft and 6,000 personnel. Within seven years, it plans to have over 500 aircraft, most of them non-combat types. Currently the air force has seven squadrons: (1 transport, 2 reconnaissance, 1 helicopter training, 1 helicopter transport, 1 utility/search and rescue, and 1 special operations). In seven years there will be about 35 squadrons (14 fighter, 5 attack helicopter, 5 armed scout helicopter, 2 transport, 2 reconnaissance, 1 fixed wing training, 1 helicopter training, 3 helicopter transport, 1 utility/search and rescue, and 1 special operations). The Iraqis are seeking to buy F-16 fighters, noting that neighboring Turkey and Jordan have done well with this model.

Currently, the air force is flying, with some 80 aircraft, about 50 sorties a day, mostly transport and reconnaissance. The first combat aircraft will be in action next year, as Iraq equips its Cessna Caravan 208 aircraft with laser designators and Hellfire missiles. Mi-17 helicopters will be equipped to fire unguided rockets.

The biggest problem for the air force is finding Iraqis to serve as aircraft maintainers and mechanics and repair technicians in general. There is also a shortage, common throughout the entire armed forces, of mid-level NCOs officers to supervise all the work.

Earlier this year, the United States gave the Iraqi Air Force eleven training aircraft (eight Cessna 172s and three Cessna Caravan 208). The donated aircraft are worth nearly $10 million. The Cessna C172 is a single engine aircraft that costs about $600,000, and can also be used for reconnaissance. C-172s are cheaper than UAVs. Many air forces use a militarized version, as the T-41 basic flight trainer. The C-172 is a 1.1 ton aircraft with a max speed of 228 kilometers an hour, and can stay in the air for about six hours per sortie. The aircraft is easy to fly, and can be equipped with all manner of night and day video cameras. The Iraqis have lots of unemployed pilots, who are happy to have anything to fly. But the existing pilots are getting on in years, and the Iraqis have established a military flight school up north, where the 172s are used for basic flight training.

The Cessna Caravan 208 is a larger, single engine, aircraft that can carry nine passengers or a ton of cargo. It can be rigged to carry electronic warfare gear (for picking up transmissions from the ground, or jamming.) The Caravan 208 costs several million dollars, and is also used to train pilots to handle larger aircraft.



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