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Thursday, July 15, 2010     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Iraqi pilots to be trained in plan to acquire F-16s

BAGHDAD — Iraq has taken the first major step toward procurement of the F-16 multi-role fighter from the United States.


Officials said the Baghdad government has signed an agreement with the United States for the training of 10 Iraq Air Force pilots to operate the F-16. They said the accord marked a major step toward Iraqi plans to purchase the F-16 Block 52+ from Lockheed Martin.

"This agreement is the most significant commitment to date by the Ministry of Defense for an F-16 program that will prove to be a key element for an enduring partnership between Iraq and the United States," U.S. Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, deputy training chief for the Iraqi military, said.

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In March 2010, Iraq requested 18 new F-16 Block 52+ aircraft from Lockheed Martin, a 50 percent reduction of its initial request submitted in 2008. Officials said the F-16 request was approved by the administration of President Barack Obama and would require confirmation by Congress.

"If the F-16 foreign military sale is approved by the U.S. Congress and the two governments can reach agreement on the terms of the deal, the F-16 program would not only significantly enhance Iraq's air sovereignty capability, but also serve as a key enabler for a long-term partnership between the two countries," the U.S. military said.

Under the latest agreement, the U.S. Air Force would train 10 Iraqi pilots to operate the F-16. Officials said the training course, designed to last at least a year, would begin in the fall and include a range of advanced jet trainers.

In the first stage of training, officials said, the Iraqi pilots would learn to fly such U.S.-origin trainers as the T-38 Talon and the T-6A Texan II. They said the pilots would be taught English in training that would last between 12 and 17 months.

"It has been a pleasure to work with our Iraqi partners to put this program together," U.S. Brig. Gen. Scott Jansson, director of the Iraq Security Assistance Mission, said. "Through this and other security cooperation programs, we have developed a strong environment of mutual trust and friendship."

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