Iraq aims to buy 18 F-16 fighters
Baghdad, April 1, 2009
Iraq wants to buy an initial squadron of Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighter aircraft this year to help guard against perceived threats from Iran and Syria after US forces leave.
Lt Gen Anwar Ahmed, the head of the Iraqi Air Force, said he hoped to sign a contract for 18 advanced F-16s as the centerpiece of billions of dollars Iraq is expected to spend on arms in coming years.
"This is very important to us," he said in a telephone interview while visiting Washington. "It is a priority."
Provided funds are made available by Iraq's Parliament, he said his goal was to acquire up to 96 F-16s through 2020.
He cited the F-16C/D Block 50/52 models now being produced for Poland, Israel, Greece and Pakistan.
"We need this aircraft for defense of our country," Ahmed said. He mentioned Iran as a potential threat along with Syria, which he said has been a gateway for "terrorists" aiming to destabilise the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
If the funds are freed and a deal is wrapped up this year, the first two Iraqi-piloted F-16s would be patrolling Iraqi skies by 2012, he said.
By that time, all US armed forces are due to have left Iraq under a bilateral pact negotiated last year.
The Iraqi Air Force chief said the initial F-16 squadron would cost roughly $1.5 billion, including logistics, spares and pilot-training plus a trainer fleet of 15 T-6A Texan aircraft built by Hawker Beechcraft Corp.
Ahmed, 54, said he had met a U.S. Air Force team in Baghdad on March 18 to discuss F-16 purchases and held follow-up talks with Pentagon officials on Tuesday.
So far, he said, US officials supported Iraq's push to acquire the F-16, one of the world's most advanced multirole fighters and a powerful symbol of ties to the US military.
A spokesman for the US-led Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq, which advises the Iraqi Defense Ministry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The potential sale was a government-to-government matter, said Joe Stout, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, which has delivered more than 4,400 F-16s worldwide. - Reuters