Iraq may get U.S.’s used F-16s

(MILITARY TIMES)   Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons set for retirement next year could end up flying over Iraq as part of the Iraqi military, a top acquisitions official said.

“There is a lot of work to be done [equipping the Iraqi air force]. … Our work isn’t done yet,” Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, military deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, told reporters Aug. 27.

Last year, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense asked the U.S. government for permission to buy 36 F-16s, enough to equip two squadrons, from Lockheed Martin Corp. The aircraft manufacturer, though, can’t deliver all the planes by the end of 2011, when U.S. troops are supposed to be out of Iraq.

On a July trip to Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested providing used F-16s as an option to speed up equipping the Iraqi air force with its own air defense capability.

“It involves everything from figuring out a way to provide more flexible financing, to seeing if there are some of our aircraft that may be excess to our needs that could be transferred,” Gates said.

The Air Force aims to retire 134 F-16s and 112 F-15s in 2010, if Congress approves the cuts. The Air Force believes taking jets out of service will save money that can be spent on other aircraft needs, such as buying stealthy F-35 Lightning II fighters.

If the Air Force turns over retired F-16s to Iraq, the service will still have enough backup fighters, Shackelford said. He did not say whether the U.S. would lease the planes or give them to Iraq.

The Air Force is also looking at equipping its Iraqi counterpart with a light cargo airplane and a light attack fighter.

Iraq’s fighter priority is a jet fighter, not a light attack fighter that is typically a single-engine turbo-prop airplane, Shackelford said. The turbo-prop T-6 Texans that the Iraqi air force recently agreed to buy are intended as trainers, not attack planes, he said.

The search for a light cargo airplane is just beginning, Shackelford said. In July, Air Force Materiel Command asked aircraft firms to submit information on potential cargo planes.

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