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Iraqi Air Defense Dilemma

Iraq has a major problem.  Iraq’s air defense is the US Forces in Iraq and those forces are gone at the end of 2011.  That region is too dangerous to go without air cover.


The earliest that new fighters could start delivering is 2014.  Then there is two to three years of training.  Iraq cannot afford more than one squadron of fighters per year.  It takes a minimum of five squadrons provide Iraq with a basic credible air defense.  That means the earliest Iraq could have a basic air defense using new aircraft is after 2020.


There are all sorts of speculation and suggestions as to how to provide an air defense to fill that eight year gap.  The most common comes from those that advocate surface-to-air missiles as a means to provide air defense.  But that does not cover the gap.  Iraq has to pay up front and it takes an air defense brigade to cover the area that a fighter squadron can cover.


In one article, the suggestion was to buy 10 batteries of Patriots and four squadrons of F16.  The problem is that that does not address the manufacture, delivery, and training time needed.  The gap still exists.  It also understates the needed systems:

  1. Patriot is a high-altitude area defense system with anti-ballistic missile defense capabilities.  To cover those areas you need two to three low-altitude batteries.  Each Patriot Battery would have to be an Air Defense Battalion. 
  2. Then there is still the cost, delivery time, and training time for the missile systems and the fighter squadrons.
  3. Also, to field four operational squadrons you would need five squadrons of aircraft.  The fifth squadron for training and spares for the other four. 
  4. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense is not looking at surface to air missiles as an option.  Iraq cannot afford to buy, train, and field fighters and SAMs at the same time.  It is one or the other.   
  5. Without the fighters, the number of SAMs needed triples.  That increases personnel training, costs and training time.  In terms of manpower, money, and fielding times, SAMs do not answer the basic problem.


In “US Lend/Lease to Iraq? “, the only option that comes close to meeting the 2012 deadline was addressed.  If the US loans, leases, or donates enough of the fighters being retired early from the USAF, then the delivery becomes 2010.  That would allow the Iraqi Air Force to start training in 2010 and to become operational in 2012-2013.  That narrows the gap to one, possibly two years.


That buys Iraq time to take delivery of newer aircraft to replace the used aircraft.


Iraq has a problem, partially of its own government’s making.  Because of the insistence on a US withdraw by 2012, Iraq needs an air defense to start training in the next year.   Most of the ideas do not answer that basic problem of time and money.  The questions now are: 

  1. Is the US Government willing to provide enough aircraft to cover Iraq?
  2. How many aircraft and how much support equipment is the US going to provide?
  3. How soon will delivery start?
  4. Is the Iraqi and US governments willing to cover the gap with residual US air, support, and training after the deadline?
  5. And what air tracking systems are they going to get in that time to direct the fighters?  AWACS?

DJ Elliott