October 29, 2012: Iraq recently signed the purchase order for a second batch of 18 American F-16 fighters. At the same time, Iraq has announced the purchase of $4.2 billion in Russian weapons. Most of the details were not released and there were rumors that Iraq is looking at MiG-29s (which Saddam obtained 24 of in 1987 and were popular because they were a modern fighter and looked impressive). The MiG-29 is a lot cheaper than new F-16s. The Russians can also deliver MiG-29s a lot sooner than the Americans can their F-16s. Iraq has asked the U.S. to speed up delivery. Meanwhile, Iraq has also bought 28 Czech combat trainers, four of which will arrive early next year. These aircraft can carry bombs and air-to-air missiles and can at least be used to force down errant airliners.
Meanwhile, Iraq has ordered 36 F-16s in the last year. Iraq is paying $128 million each for the second batch, but this includes training, spare parts, maintenance equipment and facilities, tech support, and so on. The price also includes a lot of munitions, including 40,000 rounds of 20mm autocannon ammo, 100 AIM-9L/M Sidewinder heat seeking air-to-air missiles, and 150 AIM-7M/H Sparrow radar homing missiles.
Note that the U.S. would not sell the Iraqis the latest version of the Sidewinder, nor AMRAAM (which has replaced Sparrow in U.S. service). AIM-7M entered service in the early 1980s and achieved a number of hits during the 1991 Iraq War. Overall it has hit about 35 percent of the targets it was fired at. Along with the Sidewinders and Sparrows, Iraq is also getting over 500 smart bombs, plus Sniper and LITENING targeting pods. Apparently the U.S. does not trust them with the latest stuff because Iraq is cursed with widespread corruption and Iranian spies. Iraq hopes to eventually have six F-16 squadrons, along with the latest weapons and equipment. The first squadron is not expected to be ready for service until 2016, at the earliest. The U.S. is supplying Iraq with Block F-16Cs, called F-16IQ because of their unique (not quite the latest) equipment configuration.
Iraq proposed buying F-16s three years ago. But it didn’t happen. At one point the contracts were about to be signed when Iraqi officials were informed that putting money down for the warplanes would interrupt needed food purchases. If the food did not get paid for there could be riots. So the first purchase was delayed a bit.
Back in 2009, the Iraqi Air Force thought it had convinced the government to spend $1.5 billion to buy a squadron of 18 F-16 jet fighters. The U.S. was inclined to cooperate and sell Iraq the 96 F-16s that the Iraqi Air Force wants to eventually purchase over the next decade. Iraq needs an air force because at the moment it has no way of dealing with hostile jet fighters entering its air space, other than calling on neighbors or the United States for some air support.
Meanwhile, Iraq is slowly building a new air force. The Iraqi Air Force is to have 24,000 personnel by the end of the decade and several hundred aircraft, most of them non-combat types. The Iraqis are eager to buy F-16s partly because neighboring Turkey and Jordan have done well with this model. But there is also a need for a few fighters right now, thus the order for the armed Czech trainers.
Currently, the air force is flying mostly transport and reconnaissance missions. Iraq got its first combat aircraft three years ago: three Cessna Caravan 208 aircraft with laser designators and Hellfire missiles. Mi-17 helicopters were equipped to fire unguided rockets. Most helicopters have a door gunner, armed with a machine-gun. The $3 billion the air force needs for its first 18 F-16s included what it will cost to build maintenance and training infrastructure for that type of aircraft.
The F-16 is currently the most popular fighter aircraft in service. The U.S. still has about 1,300 F-16s in service (about half with reserve units). Over 4,200 F-16s were produced and America has hundreds in storage, available for sale on the used warplane market. The end of the Cold War in 1991, led to a sharp cut in U.S. Air Force fighter squadrons. Moreover, the new F-35 will be replacing all U.S. F-16s in the next decade or so. So the U.S. has plenty of little-used F-16s sitting around and many allies in need of low cost jet fighters.
F-16s are still produced for export, and these cost as much as $70 million each (the F-16I for Israel). Some nations, like South Korea, build the F-16 under license. A used F-16C, built in the 1990s, would go for about $15 million on the open market. The 16 ton F-16 has an admirable combat record and is very popular with pilots. It has been successful at ground support as well. When equipped with 4-6 smart bombs it is a very effective bomber.
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