January 29, 2013: Iraq recently received the last three of 30 Bell 407 scout helicopters from the United States. The Bell 407 is a 2.8 ton commercial helicopter that has been militarized in the U.S. as the ARH-70. Iraq ordered three 407s equipped as gunships (machine-guns and Hellfire missiles and sensors), three for use as trainers and 24 for scouting (but could be armed with machine-guns and Hellfire missiles).
Three years ago the Iraqi Army created its own air force (The Iraq Army Air Corps) with the transfer of air force helicopters to army control. The previous Iraqi Army Aviation Corps disappeared, with the rest of the Iraqi Army, in 2003. But in 2010, the army had fifty Russian Mi-17s and 16 American UH-1Hs. On order were U.S. Bell 407s and European EC 635s. Both of these models were intended for use as light transports that can also be armed for gunship duties.
Two years ago Iraq received the first two of 24 EC635 helicopters it ordered from France. This is a 2.9 ton helicopter that is similar to the Bell 407. The EC635 can carry 1.4 tons (one pilot and up to seven passengers). Cruising speed is 261 kilometers an hour, and max air time per sortie is about 4.5 hours. The twin engine EC635 is a militarized version of the EC135. The two side pylons can carry about 137 kg (300 pounds) of weapons each. Thus the EC635 can carry either four Hellfire missiles, six HOT ATGM (anti-tank guided missiles), or two 20mm autocannon (with 180 rounds each). A 7.62mm machine-gun can also be mounted in the side door. Iraq is paying about $20.5 million for each EC635. This was the first French military sale to Iraq since 1990. The EC635s are being armed with French NC-621 20mm autocannon and Belgium 12.7mm machine-gun pods. South Africa is providing Ingwe anti-tank missiles. These weigh 28.5 kg (63 pounds) and have a max range of 5,000 meters.
Iraq has used Russian helicopters for decades, and their current Mi-17s were obtained new and used from several sources. The Mi-17 is the export version of the Mi-8, a twin-engine helicopter, roughly equivalent to the U.S. UH-1. But the Mi-8/17 is still in production and is the most widely exported (2,800 out of 12,000 made) helicopter on the planet.
The Mi-8 is about twice the size and weight of the UH-1 but only hauls about 50 percent more cargo. However, the Mi-8 has a larger interior and can carry 24 troops, versus a dozen in the UH-1. The UH-1 was replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s, while the Mi-8 just kept adding better engines and electronics to the basic Mi-8 frame. The Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60, and the larger interior is popular with many users. Russia also offers lower rates for training pilots and mechanics.