Iraq would like to obtain fighter aircraft so that it can protect its airspace, and with the US preparing for a pullout, the topic is coming to light. So claims UPI news wire service, which reported yesterday that the issue was potentially on the agenda of Defense Secretary Robert Gates who was in Baghdad on Tuesday to discuss pressing security issues with Iraqi government leaders. According to UPI, the issue is politically sensitive because the US wants the Iraqis to be able to protect the nation from internal and external threats but does not want advanced fighters to pose a threat to Iraq’s neighbors or be used by one side as part of an internal sectarian struggle. The Iraqis reportedly would like to buy 18 F-16s, enough to equip one squadron, within the next year, and have an inventory of up to 96 of them by 2020. Currently the Iraqi Air Force, which the US is helping to reconstitute, has no frontline fighters. Instead it has been fielding intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance platforms, transports, utility helicopters, and some ground-attack assets. It also has plans to acquire six new-build C-130J transports. (For more on the rebuilding of the Iraqi Air Force, read Building a Credible Air Force and Building an Iraqi Air Force.)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.