Four Years After an ISIS Massacre, the Iraqi Air Force Opens a New Academy
Baghdad wants to standardize training
On Feb. 21, 2018, the Iraqi government announced that the Iraqi air force had reopened its academy at Balad air base. U.S. Central Command announced that the Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team will help establish standardized training programs. Forty cadets will start their coursework in March 2018.
Before June 2014, the academy was located at Combat Outpost Speicher in Tikrit. Between June 11 and 14, Islamic State insurgents captured the outpost — and the academy — and killed no fewer than 1,500 Shia air force cadets. Cadet training transferred to Al Kut air base in 2015.
The recent history of Iraqi air force training is a complicated one. Iraqi pilot cadets have undergone instruction in Iraq with U.S. trainers, in Jordan and in Pakistan. The current reforms could bring student pilots home to Iraq.
The post-invasion Iraqi flight training school opened its doors on Oct. 1, 2007 in Kirkuk. The first two Cessna 172s — from a batch of 12 that Baghdad ordered on March 8, 2003 — arrived that same month in 2007. The U.S. Air Force’s 52nd Expeditionary Flying Training Squadron conducted initial training on the type.
Beginning March 2008, four more Cessna 172s arrived. One of the aircraft in the next batch made an emergency landing on a highway in Florida on Jan. 20, 2008 following an engine failure. Two others arrived at Kirkuk in mid-March. All of these aircraft were assigned to the 1st Training Squadron.
In March 2009, the last two Cessnas were delivered to the Iraqi air force. Two years later, the 1st Training Squadron changed its name to the 201st Training Squadron. Iraqi student pilots currently fly the Cessna for 90 hours over a period of six months.
At top — a Cessna 208 Caravan assigned to the Iraqi air force Flying Training Wing flies over northern Iraq during a training mission. Above — Iraqi air force 2nd Lt. Hassan taxies his Cessna 208 aircraft at Kirkuk Regional Air Base on Sept. 23, 2008. U.S. Air Force photos
The Cessna 208 Combat Caravan is a light attack combat aircraft developed by Alliant Techsystems. It’s derived from the Grand Caravan passenger and utility aircraft. The Iraqi air force received five 208s for training between March 2008 and August 2011. Initially part of the 3rd Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron, they later transferred t0 the 201st Training Squadron alongside the Cessna 172s.
In August 2009 the Hawker Beechcraft Corporation received a contract for eight T-6A training aircraft for the Iraqi air force, followed by another order for seven additional units in September. The overall package included ground-based training systems, spares parts, logistics support and maintenance.
On Dec. 16, 2009, simultaneous with the delivery of the first batch of four T-6As, the Iraqi Flight Training School became the Iraqi Air Force College and moved to Speicher. The initial four aircraft equipped the 3rd Training Squadron. The final batch of four aircraft left the United States on Nov. 8, 2010 and arrived in Iraq the following day, coinciding with the first graduation of 20 new Iraqi pilots — eight on fixed-wing and 12 on rotary-wing types — bringing the total number of pilots trained to 102.
Initial flight training on the T-6A began on March 20, 2010, under the instruction of the U.S. 52nd Expeditionary Flying Training Squadron. In January 2011, the 3rd Training Squadron became the 203rd Training Squadron. On Sept. 5, 2011, 11 trained Iraqi instructors took over from the American instructors.
Crew members secure parking positions for three T-6 Texan II aircraft after their land at Speicher, near Tikrit, on Sept. 21, 2010. Spec. Cassandra Monroe photo
In December 2007, Iraq ordered 20 examples of the Lasta-95N from the Serbian aircraft manufacturer UTVA. In November 2009 the first Iraqi Lasta-95N made its maiden flight at Batajnica air base, 10 months after the first Serbian prototype had flown.
These training aircraft can carry weapons on two pylons, including pods armed with machine guns and bombs 220 pounds. The first six aircraft were delivered to Iraq in August 2010. The final aircraft was delivered in March 2011. In the meantime, eight Iraqi pilots twice visited the Technical Test Center at the Batajnica airport for flight tests. They later became the first flying instructors on this aircraft in Iraq.
The Lasta-95Ns initially joined the 202nd Training Squadron. After several months of test flights, in February 2012 a total of 200 cadets began training on the aircraft at Tikrit. However, only a month later, after a total of 600 flight hours, the fleet was grounded due to a problem with the Lycoming AEIO-580-B1A engines.
Solving this problem, together with a modification of the flight controls, began in mid-May 2013 and was undertaken by teams of engineers and technicians from the UTVA factory. In July 2014 an Iraqi Ministry of Defense video showed Lasta-95Ns in flight in the Saqlawiyah area, where Iraqi forces were engaged in combat against ISIS, but it’s unclear whether the aircraft were flying reconnaissance or attack missions.
An Iraqi air force pilot with his Korean T-50 instructor at Balad air base in September 2017. Iraqi air force
During a visit by Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki to South Korea in April 2011, Korea Aerospace Industries introduced the T-50 advanced jet trainer and light combat aircraft. Three months later, negotiations began between KAI and Iraq. On Dec. 12, 2013, Iraq placed an order for 24 T-50 training aircraft. The first batch of four arrived in February 2017. They joined the new 204th Training Squadron.
The Jordanian military regularly trains Iraqi pilots under an agreement between the two countries. In May 2004 a group of Iraqi airmen graduated from helicopter flying training in Jordan. The Jordanian Flying Instructor School is based at the King Hussein Air College in Mafraq and operates the T67 Firefly, C-101 and Hughes 500D/E.
All pilot cadets initially train on the Firefly with No. 4 Training Squadron. Thereafter, they are assigned to either No. 11 Squadron equipped with the C-101 or No. 5 Training Helicopter Squadron equipped with the Hughes 500 for basic training and the UH-1H and AS350B3 for advanced training.
On March 6, 2015, Lt. Laith Ali Nasser was killed together with Jordanian instructor Lt. Col. Ibrahim Hasouneh while flying a Firefly from No. 4 Squadron. By June 2015, 475 Iraqi pilots had been trained in Jordan. On Feb. 18, 2015 the president of the Pakistani senate announced that his country would start the training of Iraqi military pilots. Seven months later, the first Iraqis arrived at the Pakistan Air Force Academy in Risalpur, where they began flying K-8 Karakorum aircraft belonging to the College of Flying Training.
At the CFT, cadets undergo three years of flying and academic training. The College operates three types of training aircraft — the MFI-17, T-37 and K-8. Cadets who successfully complete their flying training on the MFI-17 and T-37 are awarded their wings and return to Iraq for advanced training.