As ISIS militants advance in Iraq and threaten Baghdad itself after taking the country’s second-biggest city Mosul, the Iraqi air force is getting its first American-made F-16 fighters. But it will not be able to use the advanced jets against the militants until later this year: The first of 36 F-16s ordered by Iraq won’t actually arrive there for some months, and even then it will take months to build combat effectiveness.
The F-16 order from Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT) is worth as much as $4.2 billion and is part of a larger $12 billion commitment for U.S.-made military equipment meant to make Iraq able to defend itself after the withdrawal of American and coalition troops in 2011.
Iraqi forces now field other advanced American hardware, including the M1 Abrams tank, the main battle tank used by the U.S. Army -- but that hasn’t translated into the ability to defeat or even contain the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Over the past few days, Iraqi soldiers have abandoned lots of arms, equipment and vehicles to advancing ISIS fighters in the country’s north. ISIS has been able to parade in Mosul several American-made Humvee jeeps freshly captured from the Iraqi Army.
Lockheed Martin officially handed over the first F-16 to Iraq at a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 5, attended by Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily. The 36 fighter-bombers will be single seat C and two-seat D models, all delivered new from the assembly line and equipped with advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. That makes them useful in the fight against ISIS as well as in policing the Iraqi airspace.
Iraqi state TV reported Thursday that government aircraft bombed ISIS positions around Mosul, without saying what airplanes were used -- though they were most likely light trainer aircraft. The air force hasn’t had jet fighters since 2003, when the U.S.-led coalition that invaded the country destroyed the last remnants of Saddam Hussein’s once-large air force.
The Iraqi air force also lacks trained pilots who can fly the F-16s in combat. Defense News wrote last week that eight pilots have completed basic training, but none are combat ready yet. Currently, no other air force in the Arab world except for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates fields fighter-bombers as advanced as the Iraqi F-16s, but the rate of deliveries and the pace of pilot training means that the planes will not be ready for action in significant numbers before next year.