Iraqis build proud new air force

 - November 13, 2007, 5:32 AM

Having acquired its first aircraft in 2004, the reborn Iraqi air force is now performing routine missions alongside coalition fleets in the country. Further procurement is expanding the air force inventory in key mission areas, and U.S. forces are extremely pleased with the progress that the young air arm has made in a short time.

“We are very excited to be working alongside the Iraqi air force; they are a very proud, very capable and very professional force,” Lieutenant General Gary North, Commander 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces, told AIN. “We are working alongside them in Kirkuk on training, and they are a  part of our Air Tasking Order on combat and combat support operations. They are patrolling the oil pipelines and electric cables with their ISR platforms, and they have proven to be very successful at rapid reaction operations against groups tapping into the pipelines to steal oil.”

Presently the Iraqi air force operates from two bases at Kirkuk and others at Baghdad, Basrah and Taji. The U.S. has committed 400 training personnel to assisting the young force, although the personnel include many veterans from the former air arm. The initial aircraft types were the Comp Air 7SL Seeker and Seabird SB7L-360. Subsequent deliveries covered the Sama CH-2000 light aircraft and Bell 206 and UH-1 helicopters. To provide an airlift capability, the air force has three hard-worked C-130s and clearly needs more. It recently took delivery of new-build Mi-17s from Russia for rotary-wing transport.

With regard to future combat aircraft for the Iraqi air force, General North stated that, “We would like to see the Iraqi air force go the way the Iraqi government would like to go. At the moment, they need utility lift, they need to be able to get their wounded out from the battlefield and they need to be able to move leaders and commanders around, both inside and outside the country. Beyond that, every sovereign nation must choose what capacity is needed for its self-defense.”