Iraq’s air force has been very slow in modernization but as a state-of-the-art air operations center worth $9 million has been opened by U.S. Air Force and Iraqi officials as the Iraqi air force celebrated its 80th anniversary April 21, 2011 seems to getting it to its feet. While Iraq is reportedly on the verge of $13 billion deal with the Pentagon for advanced weapons systems, including Lockheed Martin F-16. But along with USA there are also other countries like France and Czech Republic trying to help Iraq to equip its Air Force with high tech and high-end aircraft.
France, a key arms supplier during the regime of Saddam Hussein between 1980-88 war with Iran, has stepped in with an offer to sell Iraq 18 upgraded Dassault Mirage F-1 fighters for $1 billion. The Thales Group, one of France’s leading defense contractors is trying to win a contract and has place a bid with Baghdad to refurbish and handle security for six of Iraq’s 11 air bases, according to reports from Intelligence Online.
Meanwhile Iraq is also ready to buy light attack aircraft, offered for sale by the Czech Republic earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said after talks with his Czech counterpart in Baghdad. In mid-April, the Czech Republic announced its plans to offer Iraq 24 L-159 combat aircraft and help in modernizing the Iraqi helicopter fleet.
According to many defence analysts Iraq’s fledgling air force lacks the air power it needs to defend the country without U.S. help but from a global perspective with Aero Vodochody of Czech Republic, Dassault and Thales of France both showing their deep interest in helping Iraq modernize its air power can be seen as re-birth of the Iraqi Air Force if everything goes on as planned.
In the past during the reign of Saddam Hussein the Iraqi Air Force, one of the most powerful in the Middle East, flew French-supplied Mirages during the war with Iran. Most of those that survived that conflict were either destroyed by the U.S.-led allies in the 1990-91 Gulf War or were flown to safety in Iran. Tehran however refused to hand the jets back and maintains a squadron of ex-Iraqi Mirage F-1E ground-attack aircraft in its air force.
In case of modernization of fighter aircraft fleet the Iraqi Air Force proposes a 5 Fighter Squadrons (96 Fighter), as planned based on the Iraqi MoD which desire for 96 advanced F16 by 2020 and deliveries are expected most probably starting around 2012. Iraqi Government has also expressed interest in 18 Mirage 2000 fighters from French surplus with deliveries beginning in 2012. Iraqi Air Force placed an order for three Bell 407s for modification to an armed scout helicopter on February 18, 2009. A contract for 24 additional Bell 407s with an option for 26 more was awarded in April 2009. On September 23, 2009, Bell received a contract for three Bell 407s to serve as trainers for Armed 407 program. The U.S. Army is managing modifications and installation of military equipment on the helicopters. 24 Eurocopter EC 635 is expected to be delivered by end of 2011. Iraqi Air Force also operates Aérospatiale Gazelle/SA 342 Gazelle a five-seat light military helicopter.
Iraqi Air Force also maintains a number of Soviet era Mil Mi-17, though some of them are not operational. In case of transport aircraft Iraq has placed an order of 10 Antonov An-32, to be delivered by 2012. Currently it operates Beechcraft King Air 350 as light/ VIP transport and for surveillance and reconnaissance. Iraqi Air Force also operates Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Iraq also operates a number of training aircraft including 20 Utva Lasta, delivered between December 2010 and March 2011 by Utva Aviation Industry, Serbia. Other training aircrafts in the fleet includes Hawker Beechcraft T-6 Texan II and Cessna 172 Skyhawk.
Some possible sales and acquisitions may include 15 Agusta Westland AW 109s or 15 Bell 429 Medical Evacuation and Aerial Observation helicopters or 15 EADS UH-72 Lakota Light Utility helicopters. In medium utility category Iraq may place an order for 12 Agusta Westland AW139 Medium Utility helicopters or 12 Bell 412s.
Currently the Iraqi air force has some 130 fixed-wing aircraft, including five Lockheed Martin C-130 transports and a fleet of training aircraft, and helicopters. It has no combat aircraft.
The Government of Iraq has requested a possible sale of 18 F-16IQ aircraft, 36 LAU-129/A Common Rail Launchers, 24 APG-68(V)9 radar sets, 24 F100-PW-229 or F110-GE-129 Increased Performance Engines, 150 AIM-7M-F1/H SPARROW Missiles, 50 AGM-65D/G/H/K MAVERICK Air to Ground Missiles, 200 AIM-9L/M-8/9 Sidewinder Missiles, 200 GBU-12 PAVEWAY II Laser Guided Bomb Units (500 pound) and 19 M61 20mm Vulcan Cannons.