The Iraqi Air Force has taken another baby step to become less dependent on the U.S., this time in the realm of intelligence collection.
After several months of working closely with U.S. trainers, the Iraqis, last week, for the first time supported an exercise using a fully Iraqi crew. The exercise was a special operations drill, with the King Air intelligence aircraft overhead.
The Iraqis used their MX15I forward looking infrared sensor to provide convoy watch, and warn of potential threats. They also conducted more broad-based surveillance. The General Atomics synthetic aperture radar is not fully operational, yet, although it should be in the coming weeks or so, U.S. officials told me when I visited the Iraqi unit.
The information can be stored or downlinked directly to the ground, although for the purposes of the exercise any alerts were provided through voice communication.
One of the issues the Iraqis apparently still have is image exploitation. The joint intelligence school is still building up a cadre of expert imagery analysts, but there’s not enough capacity or experience, yet, to adequately do the job, I was told.
So make no mistake, even though this all-Iraqi mission was an important milestone for the young service, the Iraqi Air Force is far from ready to taking on the intelligence task on its own. There’s still many aspects of how to use the system that they need to learn about, including the SAR, so it’s unlikely U.S. advisors will be gone soon.