The Coalition Air Force Transition Team: Rebuilding Iraq's Air Force

By Allardice, Robert R.; Head, Kyle "Brad" | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Coalition Air Force Transition Team: Rebuilding Iraq's Air Force


Allardice, Robert R., Head, Kyle "Brad", Air & Space Power Journal


ANYONE WHO WALKS into the dayroom of the Iraqi Air Force's 2nd Squadron at Taji Air Base would likely see a group of pilots sitting around, talking flying with hand movements ("shooting their watch"), and sipping tea from porcelain glasses-a scene typical of flying squadrons around the world. A closer look would reveal that half of tfiose pilots are American aviators. On this particular day, diey recount the events of their mission diat called for monitoring the oil pipelines and passionately argue about how to best respond and stay in formation when attacked by a shoulder-fired missile. At 1400, as if on cue, the power goes out, and the discussion ends. The coalition Airmen head back to dieir offices to put in several hours' work on the next day's activities. All in all, it's just another day in the life of combat aviation advisors as they help build airpower capacity for a partner nation.

In August 1990, Iraq possessed the sixth-largest air force in the world.1 Battle-hardened from a nearly decade-long war against its archrival Iran, the Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) maintained and flew some of die most advanced aircraft in the world.2 Then it lost most of its air assets in the Gulf War of 1991 and withered and regressed during the decade of United Nations sanctions and no-fly zones, with the expected degradation of Iraq's once proud air force. By the end of major combat operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom, die aircraft, defense systems, heavy-maintenance capability, and command and control (C2) structure had all disappeared.3 All diat remained were a few cratered runways and distant memories of the pre-1991 era.

On 18 August 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority's order number 22 audiorized the creation of new Iraqi armed forces, including a new IqAF.4 Letters of authorization, however, do not build air forces. Airmen do, when apportioned me appropriate training, education, experience, and resources to assemble die essential elements: technically qualified and motivated Iraqi personnel, adequate infrastructure, mission-suitable aircraft, and all the relevant training systems and tech data necessary to field and sustain a credible force. Despite the Coalition Provisional Authority's declaration and the United States' generous gift of three 1960s-vintage C-130s in January 2005, it was not until October 2005 diat a United States Central Command Air Forces assessment team was finally able to conduct site surveys in Iraq.5 Comprised of functional experts from across the US Air Force, the team rapidly completed its assessment and published a comparative aircraft study two mondis later, which recommended how best to organize, train, and equip the IqAF to effectively meet the needs of the government of Iraq (GOI).,i This document-die baseline for the relationship between the IqAF and the US Air Force-serves as the foundation that defines the mission of the Coalition Air Force Transition Team (CAFTT).7

One of the most effective means of fighting and winning the military element of a counterinsurgency (COIN) environment involves training and fielding a competent host-nation security force.8 Doing so has the dual effect of increasing the legitimacy of the host-nation government, while simultaneously diminishing the requirement for international/coalition forces, whose presence often only exacerbates the situation.9 The CAFTT has the responsibility for assisting the GOI in fielding and employing an air force capable of helping it fight and win the current conflict while laying the foundation for the air force it will need to defend its national sovereignty well into the future. An incredibly complicated process in itself, building an air force in the middle of a war becomes infinitely more complex.

This article provides only a snapshot-an incomplete picture-of the CAFTT's effort in Iraq today. But the approach developed to address the unique challenges facing the IqAF offers a good framework to consider in future situations, if and when the US Air Force finds itself helping a struggling nation build or rebuild an air force. …

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