Iraqi Air Force Attains Tenfold Increase in Sorties
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 17, 2008 Iraq’s air force, with help from a U.S. transition team, attained a tenfold increase in its number of weekly sorties and doubled the size of its fleet over the past year, a military official said today.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert R. Allardice, commander of the Coalition Air Force Transition Team, said the Iraqi air force in 2007 evolved from flying about 30 sorties a week to 300 by the end of the year. At the same time, the force’s fleet grew from 28 airplanes to 56.
“The Iraqi air force began the movement from just a dream on paper to a force that will eventually become a credible air force serving the nation of Iraq,” Allardice told Pentagon reporters here.
The general also noted that the number of Iraqi airmen grew in the past 14 months from about 700 to roughly 1,350, plus about 450 operators currently undergoing training.
Now in the 12th month under his command, Allardice lauded the “absolutely remarkable” progress of the coalition team responsible to the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq for standing up the Iraqi air force.
“When I showed up, the Iraqi air force was just barely starting their growth spurt,” he said. “Thanks to your United States Air Force, largely, with an infusion of about a total of 360 people and a lot of hard work on the Iraqi and multinational security transition corps (fronts) here, we've actually seen the Iraqi air force grow significantly in the past 12 months.”
In 1991, Iraq had the world’s sixth-largest air force. But coalition forces largely obliterated the corps during operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. Rebuilding Iraq’s air force began recently, the general stated in a previous news conference, with the first serious efforts beginning in earnest in 2005.
In the past year, the transition team has transformed the Iraqi air force from a fledgling corps to an active force that regularly carries out critical transportation, supply and surveillance missions. On the ground in the meantime, the Iraqi air force established an operations command center and a pilot school, plus a technical training school and an academy that has graduated its first class of basic trainees.
Allardice said the current focus is on building an Iraqi air force capable of further supporting the counterinsurgency effort by the end of 2008, with an expected 100 aircraft flown by operators capable of providing three times the current level of surveillance and intelligence. By 2009, Allardice said, he expects Iraqis to be able to defend their air sovereignty, which he characterized as the next strategic milestone.
“We are also focusing on building the institution that can actually perform the management (and) leadership functions of that air force,” he said. “And it's a pretty exciting thing, but it's also a very challenging effort.”
As the Iraqi air force reaches for new heights in counterinsurgency and combat capabilities, the current fleet continues to inspire the citizens of Iraq, the general said.
“The first time I flew on a Huey, it was the look on the face of the Iraqis that I could see as I flew over them that made me fully appreciate the impact of having an Iraqi aircraft in the air visible to the Iraqi people,” he said. “That, in my mind, is more important than shooting somebody from an airplane.”