Iron Eagles They’re NOT! Iraqi Air Force Getting F-16s
The first F-16s to augment the Iraqi Air Force are scheduled for delivery this summer. The aircraft along with their U.S. Air Force trained pilots, are expected to boost Iraq’s capabilities in battling ISIS.
Iraqi Air Force
In 2011, Iraq purchased 18 F-16 Falcons to develop the Iraqi Air Force for three billion dollars. The purchase includes spare parts, support equipment and training for pilot and ground personnel. In 2013, Iraq purchased another 18 aircraft for an additional $830 million bringing the total to 36 Fighting Falcon F-16 aircraft.
But in 2012, then-Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki complained to U.S. officials about the delay in delivering the aircraft. The first aircraft were to be delivered last year. That schedule was delayed when ISIS militants over ran Iraq’s Balad Air Force Base last summer.
Last July, Iraq received 13 used Russian made Sukhoi SU-25 aircraft. NATO named ‘Frogfoot’ the SU-25 is a 1975 design, single seat, twin engine close ground support aircraft.
U.S. officials would not confirm the date, but Iraqi Lt. General Anwar Hama Amin said the Falcons, along with their spare parts and U.S. trained pilots would arrive this summer in Iraq on July 12. Amin said the aircraft will immediately begin anti-ISIS flight operations.
The first Iraqi pilots have completed the F-16 flight training syllabus. They have been training with 3 of the aircraft since last year in Arizona. But learning to ‘fly’ the F-16 is far different from learning to ‘fight’ the F-16.
Most pilots can be taught to solo an aircraft in under 10 hours of instruction. To competently fly the aircraft in a variety of conditions takes longer. Military tactical aircraft are not like other planes. More than an airplane, the aircraft is an entire weapon system. To learn every system, to learn the very limits of aircraft performance, to learn to ‘fight’ the aircraft utilizing every feature to put ordinance on target and win in battle, take years of training and experience.
The F-16 is no longer a ‘front line’ fighter for U.S. forces, but it is still a very capable aircraft with current targeting and navigation technology. It’s primary mission is close air support or ‘air to mud’ attack. The F-16 has ‘air to air’ capabilities as well, allowing it to fight it’s way to the target and complete the mission.
A few hundred hours of training flights over the Arizona desert is not enough experience to fight the F-16 to its potential. Defense analyst Pierre Sprey, who helped develop the F-16 design concept agrees. Sprey said,
“It takes an entire culture to make a fighter pilot. Here we go starting these guys off on F-16s, and there is not a chance that in the next 20 years they will be able to fly them effectively.”
Sprey, referring to sending up pilots too quickly without the necessary experience, nor hours said,
“This would seriously hurt their war effort. If they start operations with the pilots they have, it will create more enemies than victories.”
The U.S. is training 36 Iraqi pilots as part of the purchase agreement. Currently 30 Iraqi pilot trainees are at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. The other six at language school learning to speak and communicate in English. English the international language for aviation activities.
Tanks over Aircraft
In the right hands, the F-16 Falcon is a formidable opponent. However, an equally skilled pilot at the controls of an F-15 Eagle or the latest F-22 Raptor, will smoke a Falcon in short order.
Fortunately the desert DICK-tators of the middle-east in Syria, Libya and Iran seem to forego air power to invest their war dollars in tanks, strikers, APCs, artillery and other wheeled or tracked equipment. All of which make nice juicy targets for the strike capabilities of the F-16 Falcon.
Without opposing air power, the Iraqi pilots just might live long enough to learn to fight their shiny new aircraft.
Maybe in 20 years after tens of thousands of hours, a few Iraqis might rise to the level of American Air Force pilots and Naval Aviators. Doubtful, but maybe.
In the mean time, instead of Iron Eagles, Iraq will be sending up Lead Ducks. Sure hope no one on the ground has a shotgun.