Post-Saddam Iraq's first tactical fighter aircraft has taken flight. Lockheed flew the Block 52 F-16D for the first time just a couple days ago, and deliveries of the first batch of four jets are said to be just a couple months away. It looks great, but...
Iraq consummated its order for 18 advanced F-16 Vipers, which will be known as the F-16IQ, back in fall of 2011, then quickly exercised an option for an additional 18 Vipers of the same configuration. All told, Iraq stands to receive 36 of these jets, 12 two seaters with enlarged spines and 24 single seaters, along with training, support services, Sniper ATP targeting pods, DB-110 reconnaissance pods, and a load of air-to-ground and air-to-air munitions.
Exactly what America is selling Iraq when it comes to arming their new F-16IQs remains a controversial matter. Although Iraq's F-16s are quite advanced, and much newer than any Viper in US service by over a decade, their weaponry will be stuck in the past.
Currently, Iraq has only been approved to buy the Paveway series laser guided bombs, AGM-65 Mavericks, gravity bombs and rudimentary rockets. When it comes to air-to-air weaponry, the F-16IQ will be armed with AIM-9L/M Sidewinders and AIM-7M Sparrows. Basically, this is an early 1990s loadout of a USAF tactical fighter as the Sparrow relies on semi-active radar homing and thus does not allow for "fire and forget" engagements.
This handicaps the F-16IQ from engaging multiple aerial targets at one time. The AIM-120 AMRAAM is the active radar homing, data-link enabled missile of choice for the modern F-16 user, especially in its advanced C5 and C7 form. The AIM-9L/M Sidewinder is a proven all-aspect infrared homing missile, but it lacks the ability to engage targets at oblique angles off the aircraft's bore-sight or center-line axis. Modern high off bore-sight (HOBS) short range air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-9X or decades old Russian built A-11 Archer, are targeted via a pilot's helmet mounted sight (JHMCS for the F-16), which the F-16IQ is equipped with. Additionally, the ultra-modern, ultra maneuverable AIM-9X's, which Iraq will not get, has a state of the art imaging infrared seeker has greater range, a higher kill probability, and high resistance to falling for infrared countermeasures than its AIM-9L/M predecessor.
Basically, the State Department and Foreign Military Sales directorate have given Iraq a survivable fighter, with modern systems and great growth potential, but has only allowed it to carry late 1980's vintage weaponry. This makes the jet usable for internal counter-insurgency operations, surveillance and air defense against lower-end threats like Iran and Syria, but handicaps the jet's ability to skirmish with Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other major US allies in the region. Additionally, sensitive systems on-board the jet, like its APG-68V9 pulse doppler radar, Joint Helmet Mounted Cuing System, targeting pod, electronic warfare suite and identification friend or foe (IFF) system all have tight export controls and have to be serviced by contractors.
Considering that even Pakistan has a much more advanced F-16 capability than Iraq will, some say that the Iraqis should have taken their billions of dollars elsewhere, such as to Russia, and bought advanced MiG-29s as they will more or less sell anyone anything. This may have been a good move for the short term, but for the long term the Viper, and all the other weapon systems America is selling Iraq as a package, are a better choice. The Viper remains the jet to own in the Middle East, and if Iraq can eventually get AMRAAM, AIM-9X, and JDAM capability, the F-16IQ will be a formidable opponent. On the other hand, if Iraq remains a violent and tumultuous place, with close ties to Iran, than these Vipers may be flying with antiquated munitions for a very long time.
Oh well, at least their paint job rocks!
Here is a full list of all the goodies Iraqi is getting with its F-16IQs, this was for the first 18, I believe you can double these numbers now that the second batch has been bought:
18 F-16IQ aircraft,
—24 F100-PW-229 or F110-GE-129 Increased Performance Engines,
—36 LAU-129/A Common Rail Launchers,
—24 APG-68(V)9 radar sets,
—19 M61 20mm Vulcan Cannons,
—200 AIM-9L/M-8/9 Sidewinder Missiles,
—150 AIM-7M-F1/H SPARROW Missiles,
—50 AGM-65D/G/H/K MAVERICK Air-to-Ground Missiles,
—200 GBU-12 PAVEWAY II Laser Guided Bomb Units (500 pound),
—50 GBU-10 PAVEWAY II Laser Guided Bomb Units (2000 pound),
—50 GBU-24 PAVEWAY III Laser Guided Bomb Units (2000 pound),
—22 Advanced Countermeasures Electronic Systems (ACES) (ACES includes the ALQ-187 Electronic Warfare System and AN/ALR-93 Radar Warning Receiver),
—20 AN/APX-113 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) Systems (without Mode IV),
—20 Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Embedded GPS/Inertial Navigation Systems (INS), (Standard Positioning Service (SPS) commercial code only),
—20 AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER or AN/AAQ-28 LITENING Targeting Pods,
—4 F-9120 Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance Systems (AARS) or DB-110 Reconnaissance Pods (RECCE),
—22 AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispensing Systems (CMDS);
—20 Conformal Fuel Tanks (pairs).
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer that maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com