U.S. Speeds Delivery of UAVs, Hellfires to Iraq

 - January 8, 2014, 7:55 AM
A U.S. Marine Corps contractor retrieves a ScanEagle UAV in Anbar Province, Iraq, during the U.S. occupation in 2006. (Photo: Department of Defense)

The U.S. government said this week that it will expedite foreign military sales (FMS) to Iraq, including deliveries of small UAVs and Hellfire missiles, to help stem spiraling violence in Anbar Province. The weaponry is part of a “holistic” strategy the U.S. and Iraqi governments are pursuing to dislodge al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, officials said.

On January 6, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. will deliver 10 Insitu ScanEagle UAVs to Iraq “in the coming weeks” and 48 hand-launched AeroVironment Ravens “later this year.” The Iraqi government will use the unarmed UAVs to “track terrorist elements operating within the country,” he said.

The U.S. delivered 75 Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles to Iraq in mid-December and will deliver another 100 by this spring, according to the Department of Defense (DOD). The Iraqi Air Force operates Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravans that are capable of firing Hellfire missiles. The U.S. has also delivered 30 Bell IA-407 armed reconnaissance helicopters to Iraq that could potentially be configured for missiles.

White House, DOD and State Department officials, apparently speaking from the same talking points, said Hellfire missiles have already “proven effective at denying ISIL [the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] the safe haven zones that it has sought to establish in western Iraq.”

The expedited deliveries add to a surplus of weaponry Iraq has received or ordered since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in March 2003. Army Col. Steven Warren said DOD has delivered more than $14 billion in equipment, services and training to the Iraqi government since 2005. In the last year, it delivered six C-130s, a rapid Avenger surface-to-air missile battery, 27 helicopters and 12 P301 patrol boats, he said.

In November, Iraq took delivery of four Russian Mi-35M attack helicopters, the first of some 40 Mil helicopters ordered under a $4.3 billion arms package the Baghdad government signed with Moscow in 2012. In December, Iraq signed a contract with Korea Aerospace Industries to buy 24 T-50 Golden Eagle advanced jet trainers.

Last summer, the Pentagon notified the U.S. Congress of nearly $4.7 billion in proposed arms sales to Iraq, including an integrated air defense system and 30 Bell 412EP helicopters. Iraq also seeks 36 Lockheed Martin F-16s, a request dating to 2010. It has held discussions with the U.S. government to acquire 24 Boeing AH-64 attack helicopters.