Iraq and the War of Sanctions: Conventional Threats and Weapons of Mass Destruction

By Anthony H. Cordesman | Go to book overview

Chapter 14

Iraq’s Air Delivery Systems

The Iraqi air force has always been something of a hollow force. It did not perform well during the Iran-Iraq War in either tactical or strategic missions, and it did not play any significant role in the Gulf War. Iraq has, however, had half a decade to rethink how it might employ its strike aircraft in missions using weapons of mass destruction. Iran has already produced and used chemical bombs, and it has produced biological bombs. Iraq’s leadership faces significant near to mid-term problems in deploying large numbers of ballistic missiles and also faces significant constraints on missile warhead testing. It may also feel that many of its older aircraft are expendable if they are dedicated to missions using weapons of mass destruction, and that even its best strike aircraft can be used in one-way missions that greatly extend their range or ability to use very low altitude flight and evasive attack patterns.

Despite its losses, the Iraqi air force’s total surviving inventory of combat aircraft seems to include 6 Tu-22s, 1–2 Tu-16s, 30 Mirage F-1s, 15 MiG-29s, 60 MiG-23s, 15 MiG-25s, 150 MiG-21s, 30 Su-25s, and 60 Su-17s, Su-20s, Su-22s. 1 Iraq has recently been able to fly peaks of 100 sorties per day, although many of these aircraft have been low-grade fighters and trainers, and it is not clear whether the bombers are still operational.

Iraq retains large numbers of combat-capable trainers, transport aircraft and helicopters, and remotely piloted vehicles. The trainers include some Mirage F-1BQs, 25 PC-7s, 30 PC-9s, 50–60 Tucanos (EMB-312s), 40 L-29s, and 40 L-39s. Transport assets include a mix of Soviet An-2, An-12, An-24, An-26, and Il-76 jets and propeller aircraft, and some Il-76s modified to act as tankers. The remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) include some Iraqi-made designs, Italian designs, and Soviet designs. It is unclear how effective Iraq was in using any of these RPV systems, but it did make use of them during the Gulf War. 2

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