June 5, 2014 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Today Lockheed Martin will deliver the first of 36 F-16s to Iraq, giving Iraq the capability of defending its "3.600km of borders" according to Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily. Baghdad's envoy traveled to Fort Worth for the ceremony at which Lockheed and the U.S. government will formally deliver the first F-16 to Iraq.
IqAF F-16D block 52 #1601 is coming in for landing at NAS Fort Worth on May 14th, 2014 after performing a testflight. [Photo by Carl Richards]
ordered its first batch of 18 F-16s in 2011 for $3 billion and made a request for another batch of 18 F-16s right after. That deal was finally concluded in October of 2012 with another batch of 12 F-16Cs and 6 F-16Ds to be acquired.
A group of three or four new jets will be ferried to Iraq by the end of the year. Iraq is completing work on the air base in Balad where the new jets will be housed.
The first Iraqi pilot graduated the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training in March 2012. Air Education and Training Command spokeswoman Jennifer Spires told that eight pilots are now in training to be flight leads. They begin with a basic course and move forward to wingman, flight lead and instructor training spanning up to 57 months.
Lockheed is building the F-16s for Iraq under a contract with the Pentagon that also includes mission equipment and a support package provided by Lockheed and other companies.
The Iraqi air force (IQAF
) has been virtually nonexistent since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion that eventually toppled fall of former Baath Party dictator Saddam Hussein. They plan to use the jet to monitor Iraqâ€™s border with Syria, intercept suspicious planes entering Iraqâ€™s airspace and attack terrorist bases in the western part of the country.
In addition to the F-16 fighter jets, Iraq has plans to buy Boeing Apache helicopters and other weapons from the U.S. government, to assume further responsibility for its own defense and counterterrorism efforts. Last year, the Iraqi Air Force received its final three C-130J Super Hercules airlifters
. Aircraft number 5721 was the first of these aircraft to be ferried from Lockheed Martin's production facility in Marietta, Ga., on April 23, 2013.
The US is not the only military supplier for Iraq; the country has also signed agreements with Russia and the Czech Republic for air defense initiatives.
Lockheed said the Iraqi order would keep the F-16 production line running through late 2017, but it continues to bid for new orders in hopes of continuing production through 2020. They are producing about one Iraqi F-16 a month. Iraq joins 27 other nations as an operator of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.