View Full Version : Iraqi's ready to take Airstrike missions over from U.S.

07-12-2009, 04:18 PM
Iraqi crews ‘ready to go’ on mission

Part of slow transition from Air Force reliance
By Bruce Rolfsen - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Jul 12, 2009 9:42:57 EDT

Airmen deployed to Iraq are teaching their Iraqi counterparts to fly airstrike missions.

Today, after fewer than a dozen training flights, two Iraqi aircrews — a pilot and a mission-sensor operator make up an aircrew — are qualified to fire Hellfire missiles from AC-208B Caravans, a military version of the single-engine turboprop Cessna Grand Caravan utility airplane. A third aircrew is in training.

“They are ready to go,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Spigelmire, an F-15 Eagle pilot and commander of the 521st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq.

All that is keeping the Iraqis from flying combat sorties are both Iraqi and U.S. military leaders working out rules of engagement such as how strikes will be coordinated with ground commanders, Spigelmire said.

Not unexpectedly, the Iraqi aircrews want to fly and fight — now.

“Yes, of course we want to have weapons to stop the terrorists,” said Iraqi Col. Mustafa, commander of Kirkuk’s Squadron 3, the unit flying AC-208Bs.

The Iraqi airmen had already flown reconnaissance sorties in C-208Bs equipped with cameras. Qualifying them to fly with Hellfire missiles took eight to 11 training flights, including night sorties and Hellfire launches.

The Hellfire training parallels the upgrade instruction U.S. crews go through as new weapons are added.

As the strike mission grows and new officers arrive, Iraqi airmen will go directly into the AC-208B, Mustafa said.

The Iraqi weapons loading and maintenance aircrews are primarily enlisted airmen overseen by young officers, Mustafa said. All started with no experience.

“This is the first time they are dealing with a weapon,” he said.

Because of its light weight — 250 pounds — and laser targeting system, the Hellfire is the missile of choice for small aircraft. The Air Force launches Hellfires from MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. Army helicopters also fly with Hellfires.

The success of the 521st and Squadron 3 is key in determining the Air Force’s long-term role in Iraq. Until the Iraqi military can mount airstrikes on its own, Air Force planes and Army helicopters will get the calls to fly close-air support missions.

So far, the primary mission for Iraqi aircrews has been airlift, including C-130 Hercules donated by the U.S. and reconnaissance with no capability to fire on targets when insurgents are spotted.

Beyond the AC-208B, the Iraqi government wants to buy F-16 Fighting Falcons, Iraqi officials have said.

Working with the Iraqis at Kirkuk are about 25 airmen, including weapons crews, maintainers, rated aircrew members and three pilots, Spigelmire said. All are volunteers on yearlong tours.

The squadron’s earlier mission at Kirkuk was to train Iraqi airmen to fly reconnaissance missions.

“That part of the advisory mission is over,” he said.

The 521st phased itself out of reconnaissance as Iraqi airmen took over the training.

Eventually, Iraqi airmen will take over Hellfire training.

“My job is to work myself out of a job,” Spigelmire said.
AC-208B facts

* Length: 42 feet

* Wing span: 52 feet

* Maximum speed: About 200 mph

* Range: About 1,000 miles.