US Air Force Col. Andrew MacDonald, 162nd Operations Group commander, helps Iraqi Air Force Brig. Gen. Abdulhussein Lafta Ali Ali buckle into an F-16D Fighting Falcon before an orientation flight at Tucson International Airport in 2012. (Maj. Gabe Johnson/ US Air Force)
Nov. 11, 2014 by KRISTIN DAVIS – Defense News
The Islamic State threat has delayed the initial delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Iraq, the US Defense Department announced Monday.
The first Iraqi-purchased F-16s will be sent to Tuscon, Arizona, instead of Balad Air Base, Iraq, DoD spokesman US Army Col. Steven Warren said in a news release.
Plans to deliver the fighters to the air base were put on hold this summer as militants seized control of portions of Iraq and forced the evacuation of U.S. contractors from the base.
The first three jets are scheduled to arrive in Arizona in December, followed by one per month for the next five months, Warren said.
Iraqi airmen will train on their own F-16s in Tuscon once they are delivered, Warren said.
"We expect the Iraqi pilots will begin flying their own aircraft for continuation training beginning in January," Warren said.
In the meantime, the Iraqis are using training aircraft in Arizona. At least 18 Iraqi airmen have been training in the U.S. to fly the F-16s, including a dozen in Tuscon, Air Education and Training Command said this summer.
The Iraqi aviators will need hundreds of flight hours in the fighter jets to become flight leads and instructor pilots, a process that could take two years or more.
Speeding up the training in light of the security threats was not an option, AETC said this summer.
"Accelerating the F-16 flying training program for any pilot, Iraqi or U.S., would be insufficient for training them to the skill level necessary to adequately employ the aircraft systems and to fly and fight in combat," Tom Fox, Iraq Training Team Lead, said in July.
Iraq has purchased 36 F-16s, which were scheduled to be delivered between September and the fall of 2017.