By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 18, 2008 - The Iraqi air force is making great strides as it continues to train and begins supporting Iraqi army and police forces, the U.S. advisor to the force said today. During a news conference in Baghdad, Air Force Brig. Gen. Brooks L. Bash spoke said the security situation in Iraq is improving each day, thanks to the investments the citizens have made in their country's future and to coalition training efforts.
Bash, commander of the Coalition Air Force Transition Team in Iraq, said the Iraqi air force, though small and still developing, is providing important capabilities to the Iraqi military and police.
"The Iraqi air force is growing in personnel and aircraft, leading to important capabilities in three missions: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; battlefield mobility; and, soon, ground-attack operations," Bash said.
The ISR capability is farthest along, the general said. The Iraqi air force provides intelligence that ground forces can act upon. The air force has 11 surveillance aircraft, with five more coming this year. The aircraft are capable of flying photo reconnaissance missions and video surveillance, day and night.
The video can be transmitted live, and the Iraqis have used it against specific targets as well as for battle space surveillance in Sadr City and Mosul, Bash said. The aircraft also support to the Oil and Electricity ministries, using the surveillance capability to monitor power lines and oil pipelines.
The Iraqi air force also has demonstrated its battlefield mobility capabilities during operations. The air force has 15 Mi-17 helicopters, 16 UH-2 helicopters and three C-130E aircraft to transport and resupply Iraqi ground and police forces, Bash said. That mobility was crucial to successes in recent operations. In Basra, the Iraqi air force transported more than 3,400 soldiers to the fight, evacuated 111 wounded personnel and delivered food and supplies to the forces, Bash said.
In Mosul, Iraqi choppers conducted the first all-Iraqi air assault mission to insert security forces into a suspected terrorist enclave, Bash said.
It will be a couple of years before the Iraqi air force perfects its close-air support mission, but helicopter and fixed-wing pilots are working to learn the skills necessary to support ground forces in close contact with the enemy, Bash said.
While the force is making progress, problems remain in supply, maintenance, logistics, procurement and personnel, Bash acknowledged. The Iraqi government plan calls for a total of 376 aircraft by 2020, he said.