Iraq will have no air defense after US leaves

NY Times:

The Iraqis will be unable to handle their own air defenses after all American troops withdraw from the country by the end of 2011, the top commander of American forces in Iraq said Tuesday.

The commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, in comments to reporters traveling here with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, did not directly say that American planes and pilots might effectively have to serve as an Iraqi air force until the Iraqis were ready to defend their country’s airspace on their own. But he said that a United States Air Force team was expected soon in Iraq to assess what the United States could, and should, do.

Iraqis have already asked the United States for new F-16 fighter jets, but General Odierno said it would be impossible to build and deliver them by the end of 2011, even if the Iraqis were able to afford them.

Asked if the Iraqis would be in a position to fly their own defensive air patrols at the end of 2011, when a United States agreement with Iraq calls for all American troops to be out of the country, General Odierno replied, “Right now, no.”

They could probably solve that problem by allowing the US basing agreements for an Air Force base. The current government seems to oppose allowing any US forces after the 2011 date and the current US government seems bent on the same idea. They will both have to show flexibility to give Iraq adequate air defenses.

A former Air Force officer notes:

Even with experienced aviators and maintenance personnel it can take up to two years to convert an air wing from a major weapons system--like F-4s to f-16s. All the pilots have to go through retraining, takes longer if trained pilots not available. All the maintainers need to be retrained either by the trainers on a training base or by a cadre of instructors. The Iraqis have no bench to speak of so they are in more of a bottom up rather than a retraining status so their development is harder and longer. Without proper supply and logistics the aircraft will end up as 'hangar queens,' or down for maintenance.
I think they are going to need us after 2011.


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