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Friday, April 10, 2009

Iraq to triple its air force with U.S. help by 2010

WASHINGTON — The Iraq Air Force plans a major expansion over the next year.   

In a program overseen by the U.S. Defense Department, the air force plans to reach 6,000 personnel, or nearly triple its current force, by 2010.

"Despite its rapid growth in the past year, the IqAF lags behind all major Middle Eastern air forces, and achieving a credible and enduring IqAF will require continued coalition support," a Pentagon report said.

The report, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," said training remains a top priority within the air force, Middle East Newsline reported. The military service has been struggling with a shortage of skilled manpower, particularly in specialty areas, which has affected procurement plans.

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In 2008, the air force procured 36 aircraft to reach 89 platforms. The report said the air force would procure another 34 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft in 2009.

"The IqAF's inexperience in acquisition continues to make procurement a challenge," the report said. "This is complicated by a process that requires the defense minister to make most acquisition decisions."

The report said the air force would achieve an initial precision air-ground attack capability in early 2009. The Iraqi military has been preparing for the delivery of 20 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles for use with the U.S.-origin AC-208 Combat Caravan fixed-wing aircraft.

The Pentagon envisioned slow development of the air force. The report said the Iraqis were making progress in the area of intelligence, surveillance and reconaissance as well as airlift for counter-insurgency missions.

"These areas should achieve foundational capability by December 2010," the report said. "Ground attack, airspace control, and C2 [command and control] lag behind, with these foundational capabilities expected by December 2012."

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