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At this point, it is impossible for the Iraqi Air Force to field a credible air defense prior to 2018-2020. Any delays in delivery or training, reductions in funding, or failures to develop the base infrastructure will make the eventual achievement of a credible air defense even later.
The combined forces of the Iraqi Air Force and Iraqi Army Air Corps are only recon, transport, training and support groups [wings]. It is one of the weakest air forces in the Middle-East – on par with Lebanon’s Air Force. Until ~2016, when they might reach parity with Kuwait’s small Air Force, Iraqi aviation services will only be a speed bump to any aggressive neighbor.
Iraqi Air Force [IqAF]
The target strength of the IqAF is 21-23 squadrons of which 7 are formed but, are under strength. None of these existing squadrons are jet-equipped so far; however, Iraq has decided on new Block 52 F16s and used Mirage 2000s for its initial fighter force. The first fighter squadron’s aircraft [18 used Mirage 2000s] are to arrive in 2012 [first 6 new F16s in 2013]. If the pilots train in France prior to delivery, then squadron level coordinated ops training can begin then and provide the IqAF with 1 operational combat capable fighter squadron by 2014.
Iraq needs a minimum of 5 fighter squadrons to provide a credible basic air defense capability.
The Iraqi Government does not buy more than a year’s budget’s worth of capital equipment at a time. This order of 18 used Mirage 2000s and 6 new F16s should be looked at as just the first annual order of fighters.
Based on existing, ordered, and required aircraft, the IqAF is to be organized into 7 wings:
- 4 Fighter Wings of 3 Squadrons each [16-18 fighters per squadron]. Aircraft to be purchased are a mix of F16/Block 52 and Mirage 2000s. At 6 annual purchases of 18 used Mirage 2000s/6 new F16s each and 4 additional annual purchases of 18 new F16s each, the last of this planned fighter force will be purchased in 2019 and operational by 2023. This is a 12 squadron planned force. The 6 squadrons of used Mirage 2000s will probably reach the end of their service life in 2025, which means low rate purchases [of Rafale?] to replace these used fighters will probably begin after the last of the initial 10 annual purchases in 2020.
- 1 Reconnaissance Wing of 3-4 Squadrons. 3 of these squadrons are formed but under strength. The 3rd Squadron is equipped with a mix of 5 Cessna 208 Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance [ISR], 3 armed ISR, and 5 Light Transport Aircraft [LTA]. The 87th Squadron is equipped with a mix of 10 King Air 350 ISR and 14 LTA. The 70th Squadron is equipped with 16 CH2000 and 2 Seeker ISR aircraft. All of these prop and turboprop recon and light transport aircraft can only function in a permissive air environment – they are dead in any air-to-air/surface-to-air threat environment. An additional squadron equipped with more combat survivable jet reconnaissance aircraft is probably planned. The Reconnaissance Wing is dispersed between Kirkuk, New Al Muthanna, and Tallil with a fourth squadron probably planned for Al Asad.
- 1 Transport Wing of 2-3 Squadrons. Only the 23rd Squadron is formed but under strength with only 3 C-130E and 6 more C-130J on order. Another squadron equipped with AN-32s is starting to form – 10 AN-32s have been ordered with 3 delivered and 3 per year delivering in 2011-2013. A third transport squadron is probably planned. The Transport Wing is based at New Al Muthanna.
- 1 Training Wing of 4 Squadrons. 3 training squadrons are formed and equipped with 12 Cessna 172s [basic flight], 10-20 Lasta 95s [intermediate], and 15 T-6A [advanced]. The 24-25 aircraft for a fourth [Jet] training squadron are to be purchased. The competition has been between the Korean T-50, British Hawk, or Italian Maki 346 trainers. However, recent reporting indicates the Iraqis are considering buying used Czech L159 instead, which indicates a budget issue. The Flight Training Wing is based at Tikrit with the new Air Academy.
The IqAF basing is fairly clear except for a limited number of bases in southern and western Iraq. The IqAF needs additional basing between Baghdad and Tallil [Ali Base at Nasiriyah] plus a base in western Anbar. They will probably use the existing international air ports as forward operating bases.
The only confirmed planned fighter base is Qayyarah West. Its new assigned commander stated that they will eventually get 3 F16 squadrons and an AAC helicopter squadron. Tallil and New Al Muthanna [Baghdad International] are also likely fighter bases. Where the fourth fighter wing will be based is not clear.
Iraqi Army Air Corps [AAC]
The target strength of the AAC is 17 squadrons of which 4 are formed and 4 are forming. Basing is still being developed and will be shared with the IqAF. Based on existing, ordered, and required aircraft, the AAC is to be organized into 4 Aviation Brigades with 4 squadrons each plus a training squadron.
- The 4 Squadrons formed are the 2nd Scout [UH-1], 4th Transport [Mi-17], 12th Helicopter Training [Bell 206/OH-58], and 15th Transport/Air Assault [Mi-17] Squadrons.
- The 4 Squadrons forming are the 21st Scout [Bell 407], 88th Scout [SA-342], ? Scout [EC-635], and ? Transport [Mi-17] Squadrons.
- The 9 additional Squadrons planned are 3 Scout [Options for additional Bell 407, SA-342, and EC-635 Squadrons.], 2 Transport [Crews already trained for 2 Mi-17 Squadrons], and 4 probable Attack Squadrons [Reportedly they want AH-64s.]. Each Border Province with Syria/Iran requires a base - at least a contingency base. Those are wartime Corps Sectors. The reported planned basing does not properly cover Maysan, Diyala, and Anbar.
The 12th Helicopter Training Squadron is relocating to Habbeniyah to be co-located with the new Army Air Corps College.
[While there are currently no indications of this, it is possible that additional squadrons will be formed by reducing the number of helicopters per squadron from 24 to 16. This would increase the probable planned aviation brigades to 5-6 with a total of 21-25 squadrons, but would not increase the number of aircraft.]
Iraqi Air Defense Force
So far there are 4 Sector Operations Centers formed or forming. These are at Kirkuk, Al Asad, Taji, and Tallil. Their ground radar coverage leaves major tracking gaps in low altitude coverage. Even with the planned IqAF, AAC, and civil air port radar coverage networked - there are still major low altitude gaps in Maysan, Diyala, and Anbar. No surface-air missile or gun purchases have been reported. There are also no reports of airborne radar systems to fill the low-altitude gaps.
Iraqi Navy and Marine support
The Iraqi maritime forces require at least 1 squadron of helicopters for support. Previous reporting had mentioned the purchase of French helicopters for this role. Reporting has since dried up.
Iraqi Ministry of Interior [MoI] Air Corps
This element is planned but not formed yet. The MoI plans to purchase utility and scout helicopters to support the Department of Border Enforcement and the MoI Emergency Response Force. At least 5 helicopter squadrons are required – possibly organized into an eventual 3-5 aviation brigades.
The Kurdish Regional Guards are reported to have a helicopter Observation Squadron and desires to purchase more helicopters. Probably plans to organize its own aviation brigade.
The Iraqi Aviation forces are developing but, will not be able to effectively defend their air space until 2018-2020 at the earliest. Any further delays push this eventual capability into the 2020s. Until then, Iraqi Aviation is an army-centric support, transport, and training force.
[I hope you had a Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year.]