Tag Archives: Iraqi Air Force

Images Emerge Of U.S. KC-135 Conducting First Aerial Refueling Of Iraqi Air Force F-16IQ Block 52 Jets Over Iraq

The Iraqi F-16IQ Block 52 aircraft were refueled from a Stratotanker over Iraq for the first time.

On Aug. 15, 2018, Iraqi Air Force F-16C and D, were refueled mid-air by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron over Iraq: according to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs, this was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace.

The images released by CENTCOM show the two aircraft during the AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations. Interestingly, whilst the F-16D appears to be unarmed, the F-16IQ Block 52 appears to carry the standard loadout for the anti-Daesh air strikes shown by the aircraft taking off for their mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve from their homebase at Balad Air Base: four 500-lb GBU-12 LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and four AIM-9L/M Sidewinder IR-guided AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles), along with a Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod).

The fact that the weapons sport yellow stripes means the bombs and missiles carried by the single seaters are not inert but “live” suggesting it was involved in a combat mission rather than a training one.

Anyway, the first aerial refueling from a KC-135 over Iraq marks IAF’s growing capabilities with the new aircraft.

An Iraqi Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon performs an aerial maneuver after receiving in-flight fuel training from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron over Iraq, Aug. 15, 2018. This was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace. The Iraqi Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the Iraqi Armed Forces, responsible for policing international borders and conducting surveillance of its national assets.(U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman)

The first of 36 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52 jets destined to the Iraqi Air Force, a two-seater D model serial number 1601, made its first flight from Fort Worth, Texas, on May 2, 2014. The aircraft, officially delivered to the IAF on Jun. 5, 2014, sported the brand new, exotic two-tone grey camo that has become standard on the Iraqi Vipers while being much different from the desert color scheme used by the Iraqi planes prior to the 2003 invasion which destroyed what remained of the Al Quwwa al Jawwiya al Iraqiya, and the light grey paint that was used on the Hellfire-equipped Cessna 208Bs or the Mil Mi-25 gunships.

The first four F-16IQ Block 52 jets were delivered to Tucson, Arizona:  the initial plan was to fly the aircraft to Iraq but the F-16IQ jets remained in the U.S. until air bases were readied for the new planes and, above all, secured by the Islamic State’s invasion. The first aircraft (two C and two D jets) landed at Balad air base in Iraq on July 13, 2015, where they joined the new 9th Fighter Squadron.

The subsequent deliveries grew the fleet until the IAF could count on 18-20 aircraft to be used in the air war on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The baptmism of fire occurred on Sept. 6, 2015.

Two Iraqi F-16s were lost since the first delivery: the first one was on Jun. 24, 2015, the second one on Sept. 5, 2017. In both cases, the pilots died in the accident.

A Iraqi Air Force F-16D Fighting Falcon approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS) for in-flight refuel training over Iraq on Aug. 15, 2018. This was the first aerial refuel training involving Iraqi F-16s and U.S. aerial refueling aircraft conducted over Iraqi airspace. The Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team in partnership with the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, provides training, advising and assistance in addition to building partner capacity for Iraqi Army Aviation Command, Iraqi Air Defense Command and the Iraqi Air Force. (U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman)

Top: U.S. Air Force video still image by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman

36 Years Ago today, “Operation Opera”: The Israeli Air Strike on an Iraqi Nuclear Reactor.

Israelis Shock The World With Audacious First Ever F-16 Strike.

1735 HRs Local, Sunday, June 7, 1981. Al-Tuwaythah Nuclear Research Facility, outside Baghdad, Iraq.

Iraqi Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is in shock. His jaw drops, mouth gaping open as a strained moan leaves his throat. Despite the hot desert temperature his limbs feel cold. He cannot believe what he is seeing.

Eight F-16s painted sand-colored desert camouflage flying in a single-file attack formation at rooftop level hurtles over the outskirts of Baghdad from the southwest. They bank hard left, slicing white tendrils of vapor from their missile-clad wingtips in the evening air. One at a time they light their afterburners over the southern edge of the city. The crack of jet thunder makes people all over Baghdad glance upward to the sky. As the attacking pilots pull their side-sticks back the jets instantly vault upward into the clear evening blue on tails of orange fire.

Their wings wear the white roundel and blue Star of David. The Israelis are here.

The single file procession of ear-splitting jets reaches 5,000 feet, their tails to the sun and invisible from the ground in the blinding light for the moment. They roll heavily onto their backs, wings bloated with huge one-ton bombs. They pitch downward into a shallow dive and lazily tumble back to wings level. Then they each drop two Mark-84 delayed fuse 2,000-pound general purpose bombs on Iraq’s new industrial pride, the French-designed nuclear reactor at Osirak. The large round reactor dome is completely destroyed in only two minutes. Nothing else is touched.

And then they are gone.

Iraq’s own air defense gunners do the only collateral damage. They accidentally shoot one of their own anti-aircraft gun positions on the ground when they try to hit the last Israeli jet fleeing at low level as erupting explosions from the delayed fuses on the bombs shatter the nuclear dome. One French contractor from Air Liquide dies tragically in the air raid. Ten Iraqi soldiers are killed as well, although it is not known if their death was a result of the Israeli bombs.

This Google Earth image shows the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center with the arrow indicating the former location of the reactor destroyed during Operation Opera (Google Earth via Rick Herter)

Having recovered from his shocked surprise and weighed down by dread, the next day Colonel Fakhri Hussein Jaber is hanged in a public execution along with his fellow officers. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has them executed for incompetence while failing to defend the most important strategic target in the country. It was the big Iraqi hope for building a nuclear weapons program.

In a script that has played out before, and would repeat itself again and again, a foreign nation has attacked Iraq to destroy its Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) program. This time it is Israel, and this is Operation Opera, one of the most audacious airstrikes in the history of airpower on June 7, 1981. It compares in significance to the air attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, the RAF’s dam buster attack and in an unusual way the nuclear strikes on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

It is not the first time an audacious airstrike has been launched to destroy Iraq’s nuclear development program. The Iranians launched a similar strike only a few months earlier in September of 1980 but failed to achieve a tangible result, using two older McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantoms. The Iranian Phantoms missed the reactor dome with their bombs. Work on the Iraqi reactor supported by the French continued, this time with enhanced air defenses ringing the facility. It would not stop Israel from trying.

Operation Opera, sometimes also called Operation Babylon, holds a significant place in aerial combat history for many reasons. A few regard it as perhaps the most daring and significant air attack in history.

The aircrews who flew Operation Opera (Ze’ev Raz)

This was a spectacular combat debut for one of the most successful tactical aircraft ever built and still serving in front line service with many nations today. The early General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons used in the raid were called the “F-16A Netz” or “Hawk” in Israeli service. These very same F-16As went on to build an illustrious legacy for Israel, downing an amazing 40 enemy aircraft in the first war with Lebanon the year after Operation Opera in 1982. The original F-16A Netz aircraft were only recently retired from Israeli service on Dec. 26, 2016. They are being sold to a private contract “red air” company to provide simulation of enemy forces for training of new combat aircrews, probably over the U.S. southwest. During the following decades U.S. Air Force F-16s would go on to drop thousands of tons of munitions in the region.

In the latest chapter the free Iraqi Air Force acquired the first of thirty-six F-16s in June of 2014. That same year a U.S. F-16 instructor pilot told us on condition of anonymity that the program to train Iraqi pilots to fly the F-16 at Tucson International Airport in Arizona was, “Going dismally, most of them [the Iraqi F-16 students] can barely fly.” But the free Iraqis went on to develop enough proficiency to use their F-16’s successfully in combat over Iraq beginning in September of 2015. Just recently the Iraqi Air Force received its fifth batch of four F-16IQ’s on March 24th of 2017 completing the full Iraqi 9th Fighter Squadron with all of its F-16s.

Operation Opera has its roots in traditional aerial bombing before the introduction of stealth and precision guided weapons. It also reached into the future because of its mission of ending the proliferation of WMDs in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. That same agenda would haunt every U.S. President since then and eventually compel George W. Bush to invade Iraq in March 2003. Operation Opera foreshadows U.S. doctrine with North Korea today, supporting a rising argument that the U.S. should follow Israel’s example with Iraq and destroy North Korea’s looming nuclear threat before it becomes too dangerous to challenge.

While Operation Opera earns its place in the lore of combat aviation it was, for the most part, a relatively conventional low-level interdiction air strike. One of several things that made Opera sensational was the audacity of Israel for launching the strike, an aggressive act that Israel would defend with vigor, the United Nations would condemn and then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan would shrug off in surprised but quiet admiration of Israel’s aggressiveness, daring and initiative.

Another thing that surprised observers including U.S. intelligence analysts was how the Israelis managed to complete the raid without aerial refueling and how they were able to infiltrate one of Iraq’s most heavily defended airspaces completely undetected in broad daylight. The answers to these questions are exceptional planning, vigorous espionage, incredible work on the part of the maintenance crews, support personnel and incredible airmanship for the strike pilots along with no small measure of good fortune for the Israelis.

The Israeli F-16A’s take on fuel up to the last moment before take-off (Ze’ev Raz via Rick Herter)

It is interesting that the Israelis chose to use eight lightweight, single-engine F-16As as the bomb-carrying strike aircraft and assigned six of the heavier, twin engine F-15 “Baz” aircraft to fly combat air patrol over the mission. The F-15 would later be adapted into a dedicated strike fighter configuration that would have been better suited to a raid like Operation Opera.

Remarkably, 26 years later Israel would use this mission template again.

On Sept. 6, 2007 Israel would reverse the role of the same aircraft during Operation Orchard, an airstrike on a secret Syrian nuclear installation in the Deir ez-Zor area. In this later strike on a similar target, Israel would employ new F-15I Ra’am strike aircraft as bombers and use the latest precision guided air-to-ground weapons including Maverick missiles and laser-guided bombs. An Israeli special operations team infiltrated the area to provide initial reconnaissance, including radiological survey, and later provide target designation for the precision-guided weapons during the strike. The Syrian nuclear site was built with significant support and cooperation from the North Koreans, and ten North Korean workers were killed at Deir ez-Zor, Syria during the 2007 strike.

Aviation artist and historian Rick Herter of the U.S. traveled to Israel some time ago with a U.S. Air Force Major General. Herter was given unique access to the secretive Israeli Air Force, interfacing with the Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff to gain a detailed historical understanding of Israeli operations including Operation Opera. Following Herter’s trip to Israel he began to work closely with retired Israeli Air Force Colonel Ze’ev Raz who planned and commanded Operation Opera himself, flying one of the strike aircraft. Herter’s unique relationship with the man who planned and flew the mission gave him insights that lead to his painting of the mission, the only in flight image with historical and technical accuracy. Rick Herter’s painting, “Dropping The Hammer, Operation Opera” is used at the top of this article.

Retired Israeli Air Force Colonel and pilot Ze’ev Raz collaborates with aviation historian and artist Rick Herter. (Rick Herter)

New Iraqi Air Force F-16IQ Block 52 fighter jets train in Arizona

F-16IQ Block 52 Fighters shot in Arizona

Iraq has taken delivery of the first of 36 ordered Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 52 jets destined to rebuild the Iraqi Air Force.

Sporting the brand new, exotic two-tone grey camo, the first four F-16IQ Block 52 jets were delivered to Tucson, Arizona, beginning in December 2014.

The F-16IQ jets will be stationed in the U.S. until air bases are readied for the new planes and, above all, secured; in the meanwhile, the Iraqi pilots can be trained in a safe environment by the U.S. instructors of the Arizona ANG’s 162nd Wing, that already own an established experience with foreign students from the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore and Japan.

IAF 1602. F-16D-52-CF.156FS. IRAQ A-F. Tucson Int A-P. 06.02.2015

The training pipeline includes 14 Iraqi student pilots which will get qualified and combat capabable with the Fighting Falcon in about 300 flying hours. Then, they will return to their home and defend their own country with the new jet.

The Aviationist’s photographer Tony Lovelock was at Tucson at the beginning of February and took the pictures of the Iraqi F-16C and D models involved in local training sorties.

IAF 1601. F-16D-52-CF. 156FS. IRAQ Air Force. Tucson 06.02.2015

Image credit: Tony Lovelock

 

This may be the first video to show an ISIS jet in flight in Syria

A video, filmed in central Syria today allegedly shows the first ISIS jet in flight.

In the last few days, several media outlets reported the news that the Islamic State has started combat operations using “Mig” fighter jets from an airbase in Syria.

Indeed, in 2014, ISIS has captured two airbases in central Syria, Tabqa and Kshesh, where Islamic State fighters have seized some Syrian Arab Air Force airplanes. Among these aircraft, several Mig-21s and L-39s, some of those, if not airworthy, were probably at least in pretty good shape.

Photos of IS fighters posing next to intact L-39s at Kshesh, about 70 kilometers to the east of Aleppo, have been published on several websites and social media: some of them show the combat trainers in near operational conditions.

Obviously, the mere fact that some aircraft, with some missing parts were captured by ISIS, does not mean they now have an Air Force. Still, their capability to bring a few of those “Migs” to flight conditions should not be underestimated: with the help of the Iraqi personnel formerly serving with the Iraqi Air Force the three planes were reportedly brought back to operational status at Kshesh. Most probably piloted by Iraqi, IS supporters or mercenaries.

On Oct. 18, a video reportedly filmed near Kshesh emerged. It shows a jet landing at the airbase under IS control in central Syria.

Although it’s not easy to guess the type of aircraft, it may be an L-39.

As said, the fact that some aircraft have been brought to operational status is far from being surprising. What’s weird is that U.S. aircraft involved in Operation Inherent Resolve (as the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS was dubbed) have not yet targeted Kshesh airbase to wipe out the first three aircraft of the quite basic IS Air Force…

Top image is a file photo of a Syrian Arab Air Force L-39 during an air strike over Aleppo.

 

[Video] Iraqi Air Force receives surplus Russian Air Force Su-25 attack planes to fight ISIS

The Iraqi Air Force is receiving 12 Su-25 Frogfoot attack planes from Russia to fight ISIS.

On Jun. 28, the Iraqi Air Force (IQAF) received the first of 12 ex-Russian Air Force Su-25s attack planes. Seven Iraqi Air Force Su-25s fled to Iran in January 1991 and Tehran added them to the fleet operated by the Pasdaran (informal name of the IRGC – the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution)

The “new” aircraft will be used to put more pressure on rebel ISIS (Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) forces, that have taken over large parts of the country in recent weeks and back the Mi-35 gunships, involved in antiterrorist operations against militants.

Another Iraqi Army Mi-35 Hind gunship involved in an insertion of special forces into the football stadium of the Salahaddin University campus was shot down by ISIS last week.

Russia has plenty of surplus stocks of Su-25s that the IQAF used to fly until the early 1990s. But few pilots and no groundcrews are currently available to fly according to ACIG.org editor Tom Cooper.

For this reason, for the next few months, Iraqi personnel will be supported and trained by Russians to operate the aircraft, until they become once again autonomous on the type.

The aircraft will be based at Tallil.

Cooper has noted the aircraft were not even overhauled before delivery, as the following screenshot, showing signs of corrosion on one of the first two delivered Su-25, shows.

IQAF Su-25 28Jun14 side

Top image credit: Reuters