November 10, 2014 (by Chris Carroll ) - Iraqi fighter pilots unable to train in their own country because of the Islamic State insurgency will soon be flying brand new Iraqi jets over the American Southwest, the Pentagon announced Monday.
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]
Starting next month, the United States will begin delivering eight of 36 F-16s that Iraq
has on order to an Air National Guard facility in Arizona, officials said.
The Pentagon initially planned to send the jets to Iraq’s Balad air base, but the base has been under threat from insurgents who captured broad swaths of the country during the spring and summer.
“The security situation still does not allow that, so the initial group of F-16s we are now going to deliver to Tucson, Arizona, where there are Iraqi pilots currently in the training pipeline,” Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters.
Fourteen Iraqis have already begun training on U.S. F-16s, four more are flying trainer jets as they prepare to graduate to F-16s and six pilots are awaiting flight training as they study at the Defense Language Institute, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.
Three Iraqi F-16s will reach the Iraqi pilots in Arizona next month, with an additional plane arriving each month until May, Warren said. The pilots will begin flying the planes in January, he said.
While training in the Iraq-owned jets, the pilots will not be allowed to use live munitions, Stefanek said. But they can do live fire exercises while in the U.S.-owned jets they have been flying, she said.
The training mission in Arizona could last into 2016, Stefanek said.
“It’s meant to keep them proficient until the training can take place elsewhere,” she said. “It’s a temp solution until the security situation in Iraq is stabilized and the Iraqi aircraft can be delivered there.”
There are currently no plans to put the jets or the pilots into combat against the Islamic State in Iraq, where the United States has been carrying out airstrikes since August 8, Warren said.