By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
March 12, 2007 – U.S. and Iraqi officials are working to build an Iraqi air force capable of conducting operations across the entire spectrum of the counterinsurgency fight, a senior U.S. military officer said today. The ultimate goal is to create an Iraqi air force "that's sustainable, and with a force structure that (Iraqis) can maintain," U.S. Air Force Brig Gen. Stephen Hoog, the air component coordination element director for Multinational Force Iraq, told a group of Internet journalists and bloggers during a telephone conference call from Baghdad.
Eighteen years ago, the now-defunct Iraqi air force had 900 modern airplanes, Hoog said. "It's not that they don't know how to run an air force; it's that they don't know how to do an air force in this environment. And we're trying to introduce some Western influence," he said.
Currently, the nascent air force employs 950 Iraqis, including about 83 cadets engaged in English language training, Hoog said.
"Our goal this year is to expand their air force from 950 up to around 1,900 to 2,000," he said.
Skilled cadets from the former Iraqi air force -- including air traffic controllers, maintenance workers, warrant officers, and helicopter and fixed-wing pilots -- will be recruited and rehired, the general said.
"The Iraqi air force has a significant rehire program ongoing ... led by Major General Kamal, chief of their air force," Hoog said.
Enlisted recruits begin their military careers as "jundis," Iraqi army soldiers, then gain experience as security force policemen on an air base before becoming cadets, he said.
"We're not going to recruit a young Iraqi kid off the street to become an Iraqi airman," Hoog said. "It's not a separate pipeline; it's all dovetailed together (with Iraqi army recruit training)."
Officials also are working to set up an initial flight-training program at Kirkuk Air Base, in northern Iraq.
"Sometime late this fall, we'll start the first in-country training of their rotary and fixed-wing aviators," Hoog said. Iraqi cadets have sent pilots abroad for training in the United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, Hoog said.
The average age of Iraqi pilots is 45 to 47, Hoog said. He added that new training at Kirkuk "would represent the first time we're training the next generation of the new Iraqi air force pilots."
Iraqi airmen will train on one of three helicopters in the rotary-wing fleet, consisting of Bell Ranger 206-B3s, modified UH-1 Hueys and Russian-built MI-17 Hip Helicopters. The Iraqi fixed-wing fleet includes SAMA CH-2000s, Seeker 2000s and C130Es.
"If we can train, over the next three to four years, 200 to 300 new Iraqi aviators and start to inculcate some of the ways we think, this is a wholesale change in the backbone of their Air Force," he said. "This is a chance to make a significant change to the way we do business here and we're looking forward to it."
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