General says Iraqis aren't ready to support their own fighter aircraft
WASHINGTON — The Iraqi air force is not ready to have their own fighter aircraft, the commander of U.S. Air Forces, Central Command said Thursday.
Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan told reporters that the Iraqis do not have the logistical capabilities to support fighters.
Logistics is a key capability that will allow the Iraqi military to operate without U.S. assistance, officials have said.
Recently, Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr., commander of Task Force Baghdad, said Iraqi ground forces were about two years away from having a logistical system that would allow them to stand on their own.
“Probably the most telling requirement for the Iraqi army now is the ability for that battalion commander to turn around behind him and find a system that provides fuel, and ammunition, and water, and food, and repair parts, and replacement vehicles and people on a regular basis,” Webster told reporters.
Two wars with the United States have all but obliterated the once feared Iraqi air force, which Saddam Hussein used to smash his enemies at home and abroad.
Buchanan described a future Iraqi air force in terms of defensive capabilities.
Right now, the Iraqis only have three C-130s from the United States, a couple of squadrons of light reconnaissance aircraft and some helicopters, officials said.
Earlier this month, Lt. Gen David Petraeus, who was in charge of training Iraqi from June 2004 to September 2005, said Iraqis would like F-16s, but Buchanan said Thursday that there are no plans to give the Iraqis any.
The Iraqis are used to the Soviet and French aircraft that they flew before the war, Buchanan said.
But while the Iraqi air force will eventually have light attack capabilities, there are no plans to give the Iraqis MiGs or Mirages, he said.
The Iraqi air force is in its infancy with a little more than 200 members, said a spokesman for Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq via e-mail.
“The future air force is being evaluated as it has to be both capable and sustainable for the Iraqi government,” wrote Lt. Col. Frederick P. Wellman.
“Balancing their needs against economic capabilities is one of the key pieces to that puzzle,” he wrote.
“At this point, I can’t say when they will have their own capability for close air support, but there are a number of possibilities to field a low cost system in the next few years.”