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Flying Iraqi Air (Force)

A team of U.S. Air Force personnel at Basra Air Station in southern Iraq is working to rebuild an air force that the U.S. military spent more than a decade destroying, as I note in today's The Washington Times. Former test pilot Lt. Col. Kelly Latimer and her team of five pilots and maintainers are partnered with 70 Squadron of the reborn Iraqi air force, which three years ago had been grounded by 12 years of attacks and sanctions.iaf1.jpgThe squadron's 15 Iraqi pilots and 39 other personnel operate four light aircraft donated by coalition countries -- two bulbous Seekers powered by a single pusher propeller and painted bright yellow, as well as two single-prop CH-2000s sporting a more conventional engine-in-front layout and gray paint. Both types carry infrared and daylight cameras for monitoring power and oil infrastructure and for spotting targets for other branches of the Iraqi military.This year, the squadron has spent 900 hours in the air, usually flying about five sorties a day. An American pilot rides along on all flights. This close partnership isn't likely to change anytime soon, given the Iraqi Air Force's limited capability. The Air Force Association's Daily Report notes:

Lagging behind Iraqi ground forces is the buildup of the Iraqi Air Force, which [defense analyst Anthony] Cordesman says is "at best a small cadre of forces with token reconnaissance and air transport capability." The chief problem being "difficulty in recruiting qualified candidates." He does say that Iraq plans to at least double the current 750-man force by the end of 2007. Of course, he also notes that the Iraq Ministry of Defense has not developed plans to procure its own combat aircraft. All of which makes last year's prediction by outgoing USAF Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper that the US Air Force would still be in Iraq long after US ground troops have pulled out seem right on the mark.
--David Axe
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