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“The Iraqi Army, which recently took control of their military's rotary-wing assets from the Iraqi Air Force, uses the Huey primarily as a scout and reconnaissance aircraft.” With this sentence, the announcement of the formation of the Iraqi Army Air Corps was made by Specialist Roland Hale, a journalist for the 1st Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade.
While there are limited details concerning this reorganization, the known structure of the Iraqi Air Force makes sorting out which squadrons are now Army Air Corps simple. The subordination of the air bases, training establishment, and the future air defense brigade are less clear and may be under joint or separate command in several cases.
Iraqi Army Air Corps
The existing, forming, and planned AAC squadrons indicate a forming structure of 4 aviation brigades and a training squadron. This fits the support aviation structure for the planned 4 Iraqi Army Corps. This is a work in progress and all new helicopter squadrons will be formed at Taji first and then assigned as needed.
Taji Regional Air Base is the primary helicopter base. Taji is the home of several Iraqi Army schools. It is also the home of the Iraqi Air Force’s Technical Training Wing and the Sector Operations Center for Central Iraq. This base will probably be a joint command with the Iraqi Army in the lead. The Technical Training Wing will probably remain under the Iraqi Air Force. The squadrons existing or forming at Taji are all helicopter squadrons:
- 12th Flight Training Squadron - while elements are located at Kirkuk, this squadron has been operating split between Taji/Kirkuk and is the principle helicopter training squadron. Currently equipped with 10 OH-58C (US loan) and 10 Jet Rangers.
- 2nd Utility/Scout Squadron – is equipped with 16 Huey II helicopters. This squadron has had some confusing reporting over the last year indicating it was a training squadron. It is likely that aircrew for the planned Recon/Lt Attack helicopter squadrons have been receiving advanced training in scout helicopter operations and the use of night-vision goggles in this squadron.
- 4th Transport Squadron – is equipped with MI-17 helicopters and operates detachments in Habbenayah and Basrah. This squadron is equipped with the oldest MI-17s and also operates the VIP helicopters.
- 15th Air Assault Squadron – is equipped with MI-17v5 and was formed for dedicated Iraqi Special Operation Force support. There are indications that this squadron has been retasked.
- 21st Armed Reconnaissance Squadron – is forming at Taji. This squadron is to be equipped with Armed Bell-407 helicopters to be delivered by 30 August 2011.
- 88th Attack Squadron – is forming at Taji. This squadron is being equipped with used SA-342 helicopters from the French Army. Delivery of initial helicopters reported in February 2010.
- ? Attack Squadron – is forming at Taji. This squadron is being equipped with new EC-635 helicopters with delivery to be complete in 2011. Delivery of initial 2 helicopters reported in May 2010.
- ? Air Assault Squadron – is planned to be equipped with MI-17CTs ordered to be delivered in August 2010.
Basrah Regional Air Base operates a detachment of MI-17s. The Iraqi Air Force’s 70th Reconnaissance Squadron recently transferred Ali AB, leaving only helicopters operating here. This base shares Basrah International Airport and military operations are planned to move to Shuaibah AB this year.
Habbenayah Regional Air Base operates a detachment of MI-17s.
Kut Regional Air Base plans to base MI-17s and is to support a ground-link for reconnaissance aircraft.
Planned Army Air Corps Squadrons:
- 2x Transport/Air Assault Squadron - planned. There are at least 5 squadrons of MI-17 aircrew trained but only 2 operational squadrons with a 3rd forming. At least 2 more squadrons are planned.
- 1x Armed Recon Squadron – planned. The initial order for Armed Bell-407s includes an option for 26 more. If executed, delivery is planned by October 2012.
- 2x Attack Squadrons – planned. Both orders for used SA-342s and new EC-635s included options for additional aircraft to form additional squadrons. Delivery prior to 2015, if the options are executed.
In addition to the known squadrons [existing, forming, or planned] there are 10 AAC/IqAF squadrons planned where the type has not been identified. The AAC is likely to get 4 of those squadrons and they are likely to be heavy attack helicopters such as the Apache.
This is a SWAG but, the SA-342s, EC-635s, and Bell-407s all fit for employment in the armed reconnaissance [Scout] role similar to what the UH- 1 Hueys of 2nd Squadron have been performing. The Iraqi Army plans to have 4 Corps: 3 Frontal Corps and a Central Reserve Corps. That could mean that the plan is for the AAC to be organized into:
- 3 Frontal Corps Aviation Brigades with 2 light attack/recon squadrons and 1 Mi-17 equipped air assault squadron plus a future planned heavy attack squadron [Apache?]. Basrah, Kut, and Habbenayah are the probable planned headquarters bases.
- 1 Reserve Corps Aviation Brigade with 2 Mi-17 equipped air assault squadrons and 1 Huey equipped utility/recon squadron plus a future planned heavy attack squadron [Apache?]. Headquarters at Taji.
- 12th Training Squadron probably administratively attached to the Reserve Corps.
Iraqi Air Force (IqAF)
The Iraqi Air Force structure is also fairly clear with the exceptions of the possible joint or separate commands.
Air Technical Training Wing at Taji will probably continue as a joint IqAF lead training command. However, some of the IqAF specific training will probably move to Tikrit.
Ali (Tallil) Regional Air Base is the location of the Southern Sector Operational Command and a probable future fighter base.
- 70th Reconnaissance Squadron – relocated to Ali (Tallil) this year. Equipped with CH2000 and SBL-360 aircraft, this squadron provides reconnaissance support to southern Iraq.
New Al Muthanna Regional Air Base (BIAP) is the base for the IqAF’s Transport Wing.
- 23rd Transport Squadron – is equipped with 3 C-130E and is to take delivery of 4 C-130J-30 in 2010/11 and 2 more C-130J-30 in 2012.
- 87th Reconnaissance Squadron – is equipped with King Air 350 ISR and Light Transport Aircraft. While primarily used as a reconnaissance squadron, the 87th also provides light transport services.
Tikrit Regional Air Base is the new IqAF training base. Elements from Rustimayah, Kirkuk and Taji have been and continue to relocate here.
- Air Academy – The first classes started in mid-2010. This is the IqAF’s officer academy. Previously the IqAF officer training was performed at the Military Academy at Rustimayah.
- Iraqi Air Force College - The first courses started in January 2010. Eventually 1,500 students are planned. This is the ground school for IqAF aircrew.
- 1st Flight Training Squadron – Currently located at Kirkuk but planned to relocated to Tikrit this year. Equipped with Cessna C172s, this squadron provides basic flight training.
- ? Training Squadron – Iraq ordered 20 Lasta-95 intermediate trainers and 9 have been reported delivered. All are to be delivered by the end of 2010. However, none of these aircraft have been reported in Iraq. This indicates the squadron is training in Serbia.
- ? Training Squadron – with the arrival of the first T-6A Advanced Trainers this undesignated squadron of the Flight Training Wing started forming. Currently equipped with 8 T-6A, 7 more T-6As are expected by the end of 2010.
Kirkuk Regional Air Base (Kirkuk IAP) was the IqAF Flight Training Base but, that function is relocating to Tikrit. Kirkuk is also home to the Northern Sector Operational Command and will probably be a fighter base.
- 3rd Reconnaissance Squadron – is equipped with Cessna RC-/AC-/C-208 Caravan ISR, armed ISR, and Light Transport Aircraft. Provides reconnaissance support for northern Iraq.
Al Asad Regional Air Base is the location of the Western Sector Operational Command and probably a planned fighter base.
Balad Regional Air Base is planned to be a main operating base indicating it is to be a fighter base.
Q-West Regional Air Base. The new commander of the base indicated that F16s and new helicopters are to be based here. Indicates this recently turned over base is to support IqAF and AAC assets.
Planned Iraqi Air Force:
- 1x Transport Squadron – is planned. 10 AN-32s have been ordered from the Ukraine with the 1st to deliver this fall. Possible 2 squadrons of these aircraft planned. Probably be based at New Al Muthanna.
- 5x Fighter Squadrons - planned to start forming in 2012. The first 18 F16 Block 52 aircraft are to deliver in 2013. Initial pilot training in the US is to start in August 2010. IqAF Chief of Staff has stated he wants 96 F16C/D by 2020 to provide a capacity for basic air defense.
- 1x Reconnaissance Squadron - was planned and may be only postponed. 36 AT-6B light attack trainers were planned to be incorporated with the 3 existing reconnaissance squadrons and forming an additional squadron.
- 1x (Jet) Training Squadron – planned. Procurement competition for 24 T-50, Hawk, or Maki 346 Jet Trainers has been announced. The Korean T-50 Jet Trainer will probably win and this squadron will be based at Tikrit.
In addition to the known squadrons [existing, forming, or planned] there are 10 AAC/IqAF squadrons planned where the type has not been identified. The IqAF is likely to get 6 of these squadrons. They are probably 1 more AN-32 transport squadron and 5 additional fighter squadrons [Rafale?]. Iraqi Ministry of Defense has made it clear that they do not intend to be dependent on any 1 country. So they will split their fighter force between 2 countries and France appears to have the inside track. This purchase will probably be post Phase 3 [2016-2020] due to budget; however, the purchases could happen in parallel with the F16 buys if the budget improves.
Joint or Separate Commands?
As mentioned above, at least Taji and Q-West will probably be joint operations with Taji under Iraqi Army lead and Q-West under IqAF lead. Since it makes no sense to duplicate the training establishments, much of the aviation technical training will also be joint and probably placed under the Iraqi JFC’s Training and Doctrine Command. The other schools at Taji are already under ITDC/ Tactical Training Command. The Sector Operational Command at Taji will remain under the IqAF.
By 2012 an Air Defense Brigade is planned to be formed. No further details are available. This brigade may be an IA, IqAF, joint, or independent command. This is not expected to be a combat command, just the basic ability to track aircraft in Iraqi airspace. The first planned Iraqi air defense COMBAT capacity does not start to arrive until 2013 and will not be a credible force until 2020 – as planned by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.
The Iraqi Air Services continue to develop and mature however, approximately 10 of the planned IqAF/AAC squadrons will still be “planned” in 2020. Until 2020, Iraq will not have key capabilities such as a credible air defense. This has been part of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense’s 3 phase plan since 2006. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior has not yet formed its helicopter equipped Police Air Force. The first orders for those 12 utility and 15 scout helicopters have not been finalized. The KRG is reported to have an observation helicopter squadron. The 2012 US withdraw date was picked by the politicians, not the Iraqi Security Forces.