The Iraqis are getting a batch of American F-16 fighter planes to run combat missions against the Islamic State, but questions remain over whether they can fly them. According to officials, the first batch of the much-awaited jets is set to arrive in the war-torn country this summer. The Iraqis purchased 18 in 2011 for $3 billion, and another 18 for $830 million two years later, for a total of 36 aircraft.
To date, there have been numerous delays in getting the F-16s to Iraq, mostly because of the deteriorating security situation there, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters on Friday. “We remain committed to fulfilling the delivery of those aircraft,” he added.
He said there are 36 Iraqi pilots in the US Air Force training “pipeline,” with 30 at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, and the other six at language school. “These will be the first pilots to use Iraq’s F-16s in the fight against ISIL,” said Warren, adding that the first batch of jets delivered this summer will number “less than 10.”
How prepared they will be remains to be seen, said defense-aviation experts who spoke to FoxNews.com. Pierre Sprey, a defense analyst who helped to design the concept that led to the original F-16 in the 1970’s, said: “It takes an entire culture to make a fighter pilot. Here we go starting these guys off on F-16s and there is not a chance that in the next 20 years they will be able to fly them effectively.”
The delivery has been a rocky process. Instead of going to Iraq, the purchased planes were diverted to the Arizona base in Tucson in November 2014 because of the security situation in Iraq, where ISIS fighters were gaining ground. The plan, according to a Pentagon statement at the time, was for planes to gradually arrive in Arizona until May 2015. Iraqi pilots, who have been using training aircraft, would be able to train in their own planes starting in January, according to the Pentagon.
Of course, there is always the chance they could fall into the wrong hands, just like any other weapon. ISIS may not be able to fly the planes, but their loss would equal billions in wasted money and technology, said Sprey. Noting the instability of the government there, he said: “They could easily fall into the hands of someone else, if not ISIL, someone else.”