CAMP VICTORY, Iraq: Air Force officials are sending an assessment team to Iraq to look at how the Iraqi military can field an air defense once American forces leave in 2011.
The team is expected in the country shortly, said Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, during a roundtable July 28 with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
The Iraqis probably will not be able to field advanced air-to-air manned interceptors by the time U.S. forces leave the country at the end of 2011, the general said, but the U.S. team will work with Iraqi officials to look for creative solutions to the problem.
The Iraqi army is well on its way to being a professional force under civilian government control. The Iraqi navy is getting 15 patrol boats from the U.S. Navy and has three ships coming from the Italian navy. This will allow the Iraqis to defend the all-important oil terminal in Iraqi waters.
But air defense is another matter. Defending its airspace is a huge undertaking for Iraqi leaders. The government must procure suitable aircraft that can intercept other jets. The pilots must be trained, infrastructure must be built and mechanics must be instructed. The logistics trail also must be established. Procuring new aircraft in time for the American withdrawal would not provide the requisite capabilities they would entail.
And an air defense system is more than just planes. Radars, a communications system and command structure also must be built.
“We’re going to bring this team over here to try and get them some creative solutions that might allow them to have some capacity by 2011,” General Odierno said, citing use of retired U.S. F-16 fighters or the purchase of aircraft from other countries as possible steps in the process.