Iraq Makes First Payment on New F-16 Fleet

According to various (and official) sources, the Iraqi government has begun the process of purchasing F-16s to stand up a new capability in its fledgling Air Force.

Iraq has signed an estimated $3 billion deal to buy 18 fighter jets from the United States, officials said Tuesday, in a measure aimed at protecting its air space alone after years of relying on help from American pilots.

Though the planes won’t arrive in country for some time, Iraqi pilots are reportedly already being trained in the US: 

Ten Iraqi pilots are already training on the fighter in the United States and their instruction could be completed before the delivery of the first planes to Baghdad, General Russ Handy, head of US air forces in Iraq, said on September 14.

General Handy’s precise quote:

There are 10 pilots in the United States now training as we speak that initial cadre of — and it takes about two years to produce an F-16 pilot when you look at the basic training.  English-language training, quite frankly, is sometimes the hardest thing in that first step before they enter the rest of the training pipeline.  And so we’re looking at about a two-year process.  Some of those pilots may actually finish F-16 training before F-16s arrive in Iraq…

The version of the F-16 Iraq gets may be significant:

The two sides have been negotiating for the F-16 Block 52 export model with sophisticated avionics and weapons in a deal that included maintenance and training, a U.S. military official said.

Such a deal might actually give Iraq better F-16s than Taiwan currently has.

The F-16s will reportedly provide Iraq its first true combat Air Force capability.  The US mission to train pilots in Iraq recently ended, beginning Iraq’s sole ownership of its pilot training program.