The new Iraqi flight training program has graduated the first new helicopter pilots the country has had in fifteen years. The eleven new helicopter pilots were trained at an air base in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. This area has been largely free of terrorist attacks. This was a major consideration when the program was set up two years ago. Security was a major consideration for the two hundred or so pilot trainees and their instructors that were there at the beginning. The training courses last 2-3 years, depending on type of aircraft. Eventually, the program hopes to turn out 130 pilots a year. The most recent class to graduate also contained twelve pilots trained to fly fixed wing aircraft.
Two years ago, strength of the air force was 1,500 personnel and about fifty aircraft. Iraq is now expanding its air force to over 130 aircraft and 6,000 personnel. Within 4-5 years, it plans to have over 500 aircraft, most of them non-combat types. Currently the air force has seven squadrons: (1 transport, 2 reconnaissance, 1 helicopter training, 1 helicopter transport, 1 utility/search and rescue, and 1 special operations). By 2015, there will be about 35 squadrons (14 fighter, 5 attack helicopter, 5 armed scout helicopter, 2 transport, 2 reconnaissance, 1 fixed wing training, 1 helicopter training, 3 helicopter transport, 1 utility/search and rescue, and 1 special operations). Currently, the air force is flying, with nearly a hundred aircraft, over 50 sorties a day, mostly transport and reconnaissance missions. The first combat aircraft will be in action later this year, as Iraq equips its Cessna Caravan 208 aircraft with laser designators and Hellfire missiles. Mi-17 helicopters will be equipped to fire unguided rockets.