By Bijan Razzaghi
The Iraqi Air Force currently operate 21 F-16 IQ multirole fighters ,which have been used extensively in the war against the Islamic State terror group. The F-16s started flying with no.9 squadron in 2015.
Iraqs F-16IQs are the Block 50/52 plus model that use conformal fuel tanks to extend the aircrafts range without taking up external hard-points. The primary mission of Iraq’s F-16s is to conduct Close Air Support, Air Interdiction and Air Defense. Despite these assigned roles Iraqs F-16s are limited in what kinds of munitions they can deploy.
F-16IQs cannot be equipped with GPS guided JDAMs and SDBs or anti radar AGM-88 HARMs. Active Radar AIM-120 AMRAAMs have also not been sold to Iraq. Currently the Iraqi F-16s rely on Laser guided Paveway series and Laser guided AGM-65 Mavericks. For air to air the F-16IQ can deploy the AIM-9L Sidewinder and AIM-7F Sparrow. The AIM-9L cannot shoot at bore site limiting the aircrafts visual range capabilities ,while the Sparrow is semi active and requires the pilot to maintain lock until the missile hits its target.
Despite these limitations Iraq has been able to use its F-16s to attack IS targets in western Iraq. VBED factory’s, drone factory’s and fighting positions have all been regularly attacked by Iraqi F-16s using its current air to ground load-out. When it comes to air threats Iraq has good relations with all of its neighbors. This diminishes the need to counter hostile aircraft. As a result given the Iraqi Air Forces current mission profile the F-16s are well equipped despite these limitations.
It is unclear if Iraq will purchase more F-16s but it is clear Iraq is rebuilding its air force with the emphasis on improving its Close Air Support and ISR capabilities.