Iraq’s Air Force will wait two more years before the first shipment of 36 planned F-16s will arrive in Iraq, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The announcement came the same day Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Iraqi army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari in Baghdad. The F-16s are part of a $12 billion purchase agreement that covers a wide swath of equipment and training.
The first batch of F-16s will arrive in September 2014. The F-16s will boost an air force trying to rebuild since it was obliterated by the U.S. Air Force in Gulf Wars I and II. U.S. and Iraqi leaders have said the Iraqi air force can’t currently protect it’s air space.
Iraqi air force officials have said the F-16s will be used exclusively to protect their borders. Iraq’s air space has been left mostly unguarded since the U.S. forces pulled out in 2011 and the U.S. ended the air patrols they had done continuously over Iraq since August 1992.
The Iraqis will receive the F-16C Fighting Falcons — the block 50/52 variant of the aircraft. Iraqi air force officials also requested a missile package to include AGM-65D/G/H/K maverick air to ground missiles; GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-10 Paveway II, GBU-24 Paveway III laser guided bomb units; AIM-9L/M-8/9 sidewinder missiles; and 150 AIM-7M-F1/H sparrow missiles.
The planned shipment of F-16s to Iraq comes as the rest of the world’s air forces expect to keep flying the fighter jet longer than most every expected. General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin have delivered more than 4,500 F-16s since the plane was introduced to the U.S. fleet in 1974.
Shrinking defense budgets has slowed America and NATO’s transition to fifth generation fighters keeping the F-16 as a work horse in the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Iraq will receive its first shipment of F-16s, the U.S. Air Force will update their own fleet’s radar suite and start a service life extension program for 300 older F-16s.