Murphy's Law: Iraqi Air Force Falling Apart

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August 3, 2013: The American made T-6 trainer aircraft is the standard trainer aircraft for the Iraqi Air Force, which has fifteen of them. The problem is that since the U.S. left at the end of 2011, the Iraqi Air Force has not been able to properly maintain them. This is partly a cultural thing (Arab Air Forces prefer to hire foreigners because of a shortage of Arab maintainers and the fact that Arab culture looks down on high-tech manual work like maintaining aircraft) but also the result of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Arab government in 2003. Saddam received almost all his support from the Sunni Arab minority (about 20 percent of Iraqis then, less now). The Sunni Arabs had, for over a thousand years, been the wealthiest and best educated segment of the population in what is now Iraq. Saddam also was very good at using terror to motivate people, including his own Sunni Arab followers.

Thus Saddam had Iraqi aircraft maintainers (almost all Sunnis) and competent officers (ditto) to supervise aircraft maintenance and airbase operations. Most of those Sunni maintainers and officers fled or were barred from serving in the post-Saddam air force because of their Sunni sympathies. The post-2003 Iraqi air force has had to scrounge up maintainers and other air base staff wherever it could. This has not been easy because the Shia Arab majority in Iraq (60 percent of the population in 2003, more now) was much less educated and had very few people who knew anything about aircraft maintenance or properly running an air base. Hiring foreigners to take care of maintenance has been hampered by corruption (the tendency of Iraqi officials to steal money set aside for things like aircraft maintenance and air base operation). The poor base operation created maintenance problems that the lack of competent maintainers made worse and put many aircraft out of operation.

Iraqi is building a force of F-16 fighters, and this is taking a while because of the time it takes to select and train loyal Iraqis (mostly Shias) to be trained as pilots, maintainers, and base administrators. Iraqi is having similar problems with other types of aircraft, although progress in training and hiring maintainers is being made. Keeping competent maintainers in the air force is complicated by the demand for maintainers from the growing number of commercial aviation organizations in Iraq. The commercial outfits will pay better and are less affected by corruption (which can make life miserable for military maintainers).

The T-6 is also the standard trainer for the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, Canada, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, and Morocco. The T-6A replaced the T-37B and is based on the very popular Pilatus PC-9, which already had an excellent reputation as a trainer aircraft. A single engine prop driven aircraft, the T-6A reduces fuel costs (versus the jet powered T-37B) by over 60 percent. The three ton T-6As cost about $8 million each.

The T-6B model is the standard trainer for the U.S. Navy and contains a digital cockpit and a head-up display. This makes it easier to use this version as a light bomber. The T-6C is a T-6A modified so it could carry an external fuel tank. Over 600 T-6s have been built or ordered since the aircraft entered service in 2000.

 

 


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