Rebuilding the Iraqi Air Force

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a DoD-sponsored Blogger’s Roundtable with U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Wobbema, Chief of Staff for the Coalition Air Force Transition Team. His job? Help rebuild the Iraqi Air Force.
With the recent MQ-9 Reaper kill that we talked about here on DT, my first question was if UAVs were going to be included in the the future Iraqi Air Force. With ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) such a large part of any operation, I was curious if the success of any Coalition UAV ISR program is in the cards. COL Wobbema’s reply:

I do not think that we have any kind of unmanned vehicle program established in the long-term planning. Basically what we’re Iraqi Air Force.jpgdoing is we’re using a manned form of the same type of intelligence-gathering equipment in the form of a Caravan, a Cessna Caravan, that we’ve put an ISR suite on, which is operated by a sensor operator that’s actually flying in the aircraft.

My next question centered around what sort of aircraft the Iraqi Air Force can be expected to be flying in the near future:

Well, in the future, of course, you know, I’ve been a fighter guy my whole career, and a lot of the Iraqi air force pilots are all former fighter pilots. And, of course, if they had an unlimited budget and didn’t want to worry about anything else, we’d be buying F-16s, F-18s for them. Or they would be buying them for themselves. That’s what they’d be wanting to do.
But we have to walk before we can run, and right now we’ve got some C-130 aircraft on the ground that they’re operating. There are some MI-17 for the rotary-wing side. They’ve got a few Hueys. And then we’ve got this Cessna Caravan. The Cessna Caravan will also become — there will be an armed variant of that that will come online. And then they’ll move into — the next iteration will be a light- attack aircraft of some sort, probably a propeller-driven kind of light-attack aircraft that can take care of their most immediate need, and that is to deal with the insurgency that’s taking place inside their own borders.
From there, then, it will migrate to being able to develop an air defense capability to protect their borders from outside influence. And then, from there, you know, who knows? At some point in time I suspect that they will ultimately migrate to becoming a fully integrated part of the world community.

Thinking back to the air order of battle that existed in Iraq 17 years ago, those days are far in the future. Currently any external threat that may require a robust air defense capability can and will be handled by coalition aircraft that remain in theater or are operating offshore from carrier strike groups. Same goes for Close Air Support (CAS), either on-call from a CAS-stack or some form of alert launch, in support of ground operations. Self-determination from a military aviation perspective is in in the cards, but not for a while.
COL Wobbema has a number of other fascinating things to pass on in this interview and you can read the article from DefenseLink News here or read the transcript of the roundtable here.
Above photo shows members of 52nd Flying Training Squadron standing in formation as the first students arrive to the Iraqi air force flying training school at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq. This flight was officially the first sortie flown by the school as the four Iraqi air force students took control of the aircraft for a few minutes in transit to see what it is they are working toward. The school will instruct the students in both fixed- and rotary-wing piloting. Photo by Senior Airman Jeremy McGuffin, USAF
–Pinch Paisley

  • Benjamin Fan

    I’m getting ahead of myself, but it would be fascinating to see an Iraqi Air Force equipped with advanced model F-16s. Such an order, if placed so that delivery takes place in between 2013-2016, might help tide over Lockheed’s F-16 production line until the time the Lightning II kicks into full production mode, especially with the recent hitches in the Lightning II program.

  • demophilus

    Good push on the UAV angle, Pinch. It’s a natural for the IAF.
    Given the…um…contradictions of The Iraq Situation, I doubt IAF will be given CAS assets anytime soon. FAC UAVs are another matter. And, given a local’s enhanced understanding of the “human terrain”, an IAF UAV pilot and his crew might have a good handle on where to send a FAC UAV.
    Ditto for manned FAC vs. CAS. IIRC, USAF issued an RFP for a turboprop CAS platform, and some people were pushing hard for the Super Tucano. Don’t know if that makes sense, when there are so many barely used L-39s in the world, and some prospective IAF pilots already have time in type.
    If you go manned FAC, two person teams, IAF pilot, US weapons officer, might work for the near term. It might be a wee bit tense, like those old timey USAF ICBM silo teams, with the matching keys that had to be used together, and the pistols, JIC there were any misunderstandings.
    Apart from that, I can see handing them C-130s, seeing as we’ve burned out all the Sherpas, and the C-27s aren’t on line yet. But they probably still have pilots with time in type on Antonovs, and those are as common and cheap as dirt.
    Apart from that, the Caravan’s a hell of a bird, but there are more capable STOL/utility platforms.
    OTOH, maybe the Iranians will give them some of their MIGs back.

  • Mark Pyruz

    Woe to the vanquished. Gone are the squadrons of MiG-25, MiG-23, MiG-21, Mirage F1, SU-20, SU-22, TU-22 and more. Not to mention the scores of IrAF pilots. What wasn’t shot out of the sky by Iranian Tomcats and HAWK SAM’s, fled to Iran in ’91.
    Now the IrAF flies a few C-130 Herc’s and a Cesna? Unbelievable. And this is considered some kind of rebuilding effort? Compared to the effort made for South VietNam during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, it’s obvious there is nowhere near the necessary US confidence to put forth an adequately reconstituted IrAF.

  • 22lr

    No its called money and time. You cant have a huge Airforce over night. And since they have had to start from the beginning, it will take a while. The worse thing that could happen is if we sent them a few hundred Migs or what ever and told them, here ya go have fun. It takes training, and time.

  • Grandjester

    Yeah, the UAV’s would seem a natural fit.
    Let’s get these boys some Super Tocanos and let ’em go to work!

  • Mike

    Seems reasonable to me to push cost and maintainability as equal priorities to performance, at least ‘high performance’. Certainly the immediate need is for the IrAF to be able to support ground troops, not engage in Air combat. Transport, cargo, and spotting/recon seem like the long poles in the tent, then maybe close air support.
    Regarding recon, does anybody have pics of sensor balls installed on these ‘civie’ prop planes (Caravan, Tucano, Otter, etc.) I usually only see the FLIR pods, etc, installed on state of the art UAV, police choppers, and jets.

  • bilard

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  • bilard

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  • Taylor McKinnon

    From a logisticians viewpoint the L-39 argument makes a lot of sense as their old mechanics who have returned will have had experience on the bird. This could save years of training time getting them into the air. Not to mention the experienced pilots.

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