Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a DoD-sponsored Blogger’s Roundtable with U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Wobbema, Chief of Staff for the Coalition Air Force Transition Team. His job? Help rebuild the Iraqi Air Force.
With the recent MQ-9 Reaper kill that we talked about here on DT, my first question was if UAVs were going to be included in the the future Iraqi Air Force. With ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) such a large part of any operation, I was curious if the success of any Coalition UAV ISR program is in the cards. COL Wobbema’s reply:
I do not think that we have any kind of unmanned vehicle program established in the long-term planning. Basically what we’re doing is we’re using a manned form of the same type of intelligence-gathering equipment in the form of a Caravan, a Cessna Caravan, that we’ve put an ISR suite on, which is operated by a sensor operator that’s actually flying in the aircraft.
My next question centered around what sort of aircraft the Iraqi Air Force can be expected to be flying in the near future:
Well, in the future, of course, you know, I’ve been a fighter guy my whole career, and a lot of the Iraqi air force pilots are all former fighter pilots. And, of course, if they had an unlimited budget and didn’t want to worry about anything else, we’d be buying F-16s, F-18s for them. Or they would be buying them for themselves. That’s what they’d be wanting to do.
But we have to walk before we can run, and right now we’ve got some C-130 aircraft on the ground that they’re operating. There are some MI-17 for the rotary-wing side. They’ve got a few Hueys. And then we’ve got this Cessna Caravan. The Cessna Caravan will also become — there will be an armed variant of that that will come online. And then they’ll move into — the next iteration will be a light– attack aircraft of some sort, probably a propeller-driven kind of light-attack aircraft that can take care of their most immediate need, and that is to deal with the insurgency that’s taking place inside their own borders.
From there, then, it will migrate to being able to develop an air defense capability to protect their borders from outside influence. And then, from there, you know, who knows? At some point in time I suspect that they will ultimately migrate to becoming a fully integrated part of the world community.
Thinking back to the air order of battle that existed in Iraq 17 years ago, those days are far in the future. Currently any external threat that may require a robust air defense capability can and will be handled by coalition aircraft that remain in theater or are operating offshore from carrier strike groups. Same goes for Close Air Support (CAS), either on-call from a CAS-stack or some form of alert launch, in support of ground operations. Self-determination from a military aviation perspective is in in the cards, but not for a while.
COL Wobbema has a number of other fascinating things to pass on in this interview and you can read the article from DefenseLink News here or read the transcript of the roundtable here.
Above photo shows members of 52nd Flying Training Squadron standing in formation as the first students arrive to the Iraqi air force flying training school at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq. This flight was officially the first sortie flown by the school as the four Iraqi air force students took control of the aircraft for a few minutes in transit to see what it is they are working toward. The school will instruct the students in both fixed– and rotary-wing piloting. Photo by Senior Airman Jeremy McGuffin, USAF