Iraq may abandon Russian and Chinese fighters favouring the French Dassault Rafale.
Earlier, Iraq had stated that it wanted to replace fighters in the ranks of its air force with Russian MiG-29s, Su-30s or even Su-35s. However, the negotiations were unsuccessful for Russian aircraft manufacturers. The Iraqi authorities are reported to have opted for the French Dassault Rafale fighter jets with a price tag of $240 million each and a total contract value of $3.36 billion.
The deal was announced by Norman Ricklefs, the head of the geopolitical consulting company NAMEA Group, a former adviser to the head of the Iraqi Interior Ministry and Secretary-General of the country’s Ministry of Defense.
“The Iraqi Air Force intends to purchase 14 French Rafale fighter jets for $240 million each, which will be paid for in oil, not cash,” Ricklefs told DefenSe News. The $3,360 million contract will likely include weaponry, support and training.
Rumours of Iraqi interest in French fighters have been circulating for years. In November 2020, the Iraqi Defense Minister Juma Enad Saadu met with French Air Force Chief of Staff General Philippe Lavigne to witness the demonstration of Rafale’s rapid response capabilities at 113 Saint-Dizier Air Base located in eastern France. Saadoun confirmed Baghdad’s interest in Rafale fighters two months later.
One of the main factors for Iraq is the possibility of acquiring combat aircraft for oil.
The Rafale contract has not yet been inked, at what stage the negotiations are and whether the talks were held is unknown.
Earlier, the Pakistanis hoped to sell their Chinese developed fighter JF-17 Block III to Iraq.
Iraqi Air Force plane issues
Iraqi F-16s faced maintenance issues for the past two years due to a lack of on-base support by Lockheed Martin. The U.S. company has reduced the support in view of ISIS rocket attacks.
But a U.S. DoD report says that Iraqi Su-25s and the Czech-built L-159 light combat aircraft suffer low availability, while F-16s and AC-208 Combat Caravans are the key strike platforms, and the ‘mission capable rates are similar to those in the previous quarter’.
The Iraqi Air Force is currently considered the weakest in the Middle East. According to reports, the Iraqi Air Force has 34 F-16IQ Fighting Falcon light fighters and 24 South Korean T-50IQ light training aircraft. The F-16IQ variant, tailored specifically for Iraq, is the least combat-ready of all the F-16 variants operated by other countries.
Iraq had entered into agreements with the U.S. to purchase 36 Lockheed Martin F-16IQ tactical fighters via foreign Military Sales (FMS). It included two batches of 18 aircraft – 12 single F-16Cs and six double F-16Ds. In addition, weapons and equipment were ordered. The cost of the deal was $5.3 billion in 2011 – 2012. Delivery was to be carried out from the end of 2014 to 2017. They were supposed to be the first full-fledged Iraqi Air Force combat aircraft after eliminating the remnants of Iraqi combat aircraft during the U.S. invasion in 2003.
F-16IQ delivered to Iraq are a variant of the F-16C / D Block 52 modification with slightly reduced equipment and armament characteristics compared to aircraft of this modification supplied to other countries. The Iraqi F-16IQ aircraft are equipped with obsolete missile weapons – AIM-7M-F1 / H Sparrow and AIM-9L / M-8 / 9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, instead of the modern AIM-120C AMRAAM and AIM-9X, and still do not carry JDAM, but have Paveway II / III family guided bombs with a semi-active laser guidance system.
The delivery of F-16IQ aircraft was postponed due to the fierce war in Iraq against the Islamic State, which directly threatened the Balad airbase, and the Americans were forced to evacuate their personnel. F-16’s were intended for basing in Balad. It is why the first jet combat aircraft in the revived Iraqi Air Force were Su-25 attack aircraft, which were urgently received from Russia and Iran in the summer of 2014.
The first four Iraqi F-16IQs arrived in Balad from the USA on July 13, 2015. The deliveries of the F-16IQ to Iraq was periodically hampered due to political issues and the problems with the training of Iraqi personnel. Deliveries were completed on May 3, 2019. Only 32 F-16IQ aircraft out of 36 ordered arrived in Iraq. Iraqi pilots crashed two aircraft during training in the United States at Tuscon Air Force Base in Arizona in 2015 and 2017, and two more aircraft remain in the United States – apparently to continue to be used as training for Iraqi aircrew.
Iraq is unlikely to replace F-16’s in short term.
Pakistani Super Mushshak trainer and French UAV’s
Ricklefs also said that Iraq’s air force is close to buying Pakistani Super Mushshak trainers but could not provide more details.
In addition, soon, the Iraqi delegation is planning a visit to France to check unmanned aerial vehicles, which the French side has offered to sell 20 units. Iraq is also negotiating drones with Pakistan, said Ricklefs.