The government of Iraq has requested a second batch of 18 Lockheed Martin F-16IQs to help rebuild its air force as the final U.S. troops withdraw from the country after nearly nine years of occupation. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of the possible foreign military sale on December 12, a day that saw President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appear together in Washington, D.C., to mark the imminent end of the Iraq conflict.
Iraq first requested F-16s in April 2010, and the DSCA notified Congress of an initial sale of 18 Block 50/52 fighters in September that year. The Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin an $835 million contract for the first batch December 5. The second package is valued at $2.3 billion and includes AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder and AGM-65 Maverick missiles; GBU-10/12/24 Paveway guided bombs; Mk82 500-pound and Mk84 2,000-pound bombs; and the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). The Iraqis will choose either ITT (ALQ-211) or Raytheon (ALR-93 plus ALQ-187) electronic warfare systems; Lockheed Martin Sniper or Northrop Grumman Litening targeting pods; and BAE Systems F9120 AARS or Goodrich DB-110 reconnaissance pods. The new sale, if concluded, would extend F-16 production into 2014 for Lockheed Martin, which also awaits a pending sale of 18 F-16s to Oman.
U.S. troops supported by forces from the UK, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003, the beginning of a protracted occupation. Four years later, there were 300,000 U.S. soldiers, civilian Department of Defense personnel and government contractors in the country. All U.S. troops will leave by December 31. The possibility that some would remain–especially to provide air defense–was ended when the Iraqi government refused to agree to Washington’s condition that U.S. forces have immunity from Iraqi law. The F-16s will modernize an air force that currently fields Hellfire missile-equipped Cessna AC-208B Caravans as its only fixed-wing attack capability. Iraq’s chief of staff was reported saying recently that his forces would not be ready to defend their airspace before 2020 at the earliest.
Obama cited the F-16s during his press conference with al-Maliki. “We’ve got to train [Iraq’s] pilots and make sure that they’re up and running and that we have an effective Iraqi air force,” the President said. “We will be working to set up effective military-to-military ties that are no different from the ties that we have with countries throughout the region and around the world,” he added.