An Iraqi Air Force F-16D went down near the town of Douglas, along the Arizona-New Mexico border late last night. The jet was reportedly the inaugural F-16 delivered with Iraqi colors and the condition of its pilot, reportedly an Iraqi airman training in the U.S., remains unknown. The crash has sparked a large fire near a gas line that continues to burn into the morning.
Iraq’s Embassy has put out a short statement on the crash:
“The Ministry of Defense has issued a brief statement in Arabic confirming that an Iraqi F-16 crashed in Arizona and that the fate of the pilot is still being ascertained.”
Iraq’s fledgling F-16 pilot corps continues to train with the 162nd Fight Wing, located at Tucson International Airport, Arizona. At first they only used U.S. F-16s, but as Iraq’s F-16s have come off the Fort Worth production line, they have been delivered to the 162nd for continuing Iraqi pilot training as their pilots are not prepared to fly them into combat from Iraqi bases.
The Washington Times detailed last April just how much the program continues to struggle:
“It is not possible to provide a definite timeline for transport of the F-16s at this time, but we continue to assess the environment and work with the government of Iraq on details of the F-16 program, including basing, funding and transport,” said Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “Iraqi F-16s are still being produced in Fort Worth, and Iraqi pilots continue to train in the United States.”
There are now 36 Iraqis in the pilot pipeline. The first two will complete training shortly. Others are awaiting initial training. A half-dozen are learning English at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, before they can begin.
F-16.net has reported, although it has not been confirmed, that the jet involved in the incident was an Iraqi Air Force Block 52 F-16D #1601 which first took flight on May 2nd 2014. The jet is the first of 36 F-16C/Ds ordered by Iraq many years ago.
The order was, and remains, highly controversial, as Iraq was left with very few fixed-wing aircraft capable of precision strikes and surveillance as it waited year after year for high-end U.S. built F-16s and pilots to be trained from scratch on the type.
The Pentagon’s absolute lack of foresight in providing the Iraqi military with even a rudimentary precision attack and surveillance aircraft before U.S. forces vacated the country in 2011, is undeniable. The same capability that gave U.S. forces their largest edge during almost a decade of combat in Iraq was all but forgotten when it came to seeing that Iraq could defend itself and deal with an ongoing insurgency. As such, we left the Iraqis blind and impotent when it came to stopping the great ISIS infiltration from the west.
An effective manned counter-insurgency (COIN) platform that could partially do the surveillance job of an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft and partially the precision strike job of an F-16, was never prioritized by the Pentagon, a mistake that should go down as one of the biggest made during the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Aircraft such as the proven Super Tucano, U.S. designed and built AT-6C Coyote, the venerable OV-10 Bronco, or even an advanced version of the L-39/L-59 jet trainer, all of which could be procured and flown at a tiny fraction of the cost or training and infrastructure requirements of the F-16, were passed over seemingly to make an F-16 sale and to act as if Iraq was stable enough to rely on such a traditional multi-role fighter platform for its security.
If any of these simple light attack aircraft were procured in plentiful numbers, they could have very well allowed Iraq to stop ISIS’s infiltration into the country on the long desolate highways of western Iraq. Instead the country still waits for its F-16s, a weapon system that is not even particularly well suited for the desperate fight they are mired in today.
There is also the issue of deploying high-tech U.S. built F-16s into the dismal security situation on the ground in Iraq. There does not appear to be the stability necessary for contractors to keep Iraq’s F-16s running, not to mention there are surely major concerns over the security of the aircraft themselves, especially with Iranian forces now fighting alongside strong Shiite militias who operate in and around Baghdad. Then there is the issue of the tidy infrastructure required to sustain and operate a high-tech asset like the F-16, which is surely not an priority for the Iraqi military, which can barely hold is own ranks.
All this adds up to the question: Will Iraq ever receive their F-16s and could they even sustain their use if they had them in the first place? This crash will only put the program into further doubt and disarray, and Iraq is already ordering robust, simpler, and available Russian aircraft in a desperate attempt to fulfill their aerial attack needs. A move that should have probably happened in the first place.
The Iraqi F-16 blunder is yet another reminder of just how limited the Pentagon’s viewpoint can be when it comes to equipping, or even understanding the capabilities and needs of foreign militaries. Most logical people would look at Iraq a half decade or more ago and come to the conclusion that simpler, cheaper and/or familiar weapons, in large quantities, would probably be best for their struggling military to field and utilize. Instead the Pentagon just can’t help but try to remake foreign militaries in their own image, no matter how absurd that idea may seem to outside observers. Hence the fact the betting of the vast majority of Iraq’s air combat capability on three dozen high-end F-16s that still have not touched down in their home country.
Meanwhile, an off-the-shelf turboprop light attack aircraft costing a fraction of the price to buy or operate than that of an F-16 can put the same laser guided bomb on the same target, loiter much longer, operate in austere conditions, and provide a critical surveillance role that the F-16 never could.
It would be comical if it weren’t so sad.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.