Iraq can’t get enough F-16s, will buy 18 more

Iraq is likely to order a second batch of Lockheed Martin F-16 combat jets following last month’s contract to buy 18 of the aircraft, Iraqi officials say.

This appears to be a concerted, but belated, drive by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to give the country’s emerging postwar air force a credible defensive punch funded by windfall oil revenues and to shore up an important gap in Iraqi defenses as U.S. forces withdraw.

Ali Musawi, a close Maliki aide, said the 18 F-16 jets were “a first installment and hopefully there will be another 18 to make a total of 36.” He said the first batch of F-16s with enhance Iraqi capabilities to protect its airspace, but 18 aircraft will be far too few to effectively cover an area of 169,234 square miles.

Mudher Khidr Nasir, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, has told the Iraq Daily Times the 18 F-16 Block 52 aircraft order — enough for one squadron — was so small as to be “ridiculous.”

The contract is worth at least $3 billion but will probably swell to $4.2 billion once training programs, spare parts, maintenance and weapons systems are included. The first of the aircraft Baghdad has ordered aren’t expected to be delivered until the fall of 2012 and most likely not until 2013.

Ultimately, Iraqi commanders have said they want 96 F-16s, enough for five squadrons deployed around the country at air bases built by the Americans following the 2003 invasion.

The F-16s now on order will be the first combat aircraft for the Iraqi air force. The first batch of 10 pilots is already undergoing supersonic training with the U.S. Air Force.



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