This week, Reuters reports, Lockheed Martin Corp will deliver the first of 36 F-16 fighter jets to Iraq, giving Iraq the capability of defending its “3,600 km of borders” according to Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily, who spoke with Reuters through a telephone interview.
Faily will travel to Lockheed’s Fort Worth, Texas plant for a Thursday ceremony at which Lockheed and the U.S. government will formally deliver the first F-16 fighter jet to Iraq. A group of three or four new jets will be ferried to Iraq by the end of the year.
Iraq has had no real air force since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion that eventually toppled Saddam Hussein. In addition to the F-16 fighter jets, Iraq has plans to buy Boeing Co Apache helicopters and other weapons from the U.S. government, to assume further responsibility for defense and counterterrorism efforts.
“Iraq is a large country with over 3,600 km of borders, and we need to protect them,” Faily told Reuters. “We as a country didn’t have that capability before.”
Iraq ordered its first batch of 18 F-16s in 2011 for $3 billion, and placed a second order for 18 additional F-16s in October 2012. Faily says that Iraq was completing work on the air base in Balad where the new jets will be housed. Some Iraqi pilots have already been trained to fly the new jets, while others are still in training.
Lockheed is building the F-16s for Iraq under a contract with the Pentagon that also includes mission equipment and a support package provided by Lockheed and other companies.
“[The U.S. government] know that the sooner and the wider capabilities they provide us, the more ability we will have to reduce the vicious cycle of killing where the terrorists are attacking our people,” Faily said.
Iraq has also signed military contracts with Russia and the Czech Republic, among others, saying it will not be able to fully defend its airspace until 2020.
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