A command pilot with more than 6,300 hours flying in a variety of mobility aircraft, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Brooks Bash was named in March to head the 350-member Coalition Air Force Transition Team that is helping Iraq rebuild its air force. Earlier in his Air Force career, he served as deputy executive secretary for the National Security Council under the Clinton and Bush administrations. Air & Space executive editor Paul Hoversten spoke with Bash last April.
Air & Space: What is the threat that Iraq needs an air force to counter?
Bash: The current one is the counter-insurgency fight. The Iraqi air force is doing several things. Airlift and battlefield mobility, using their helicopters and light aircraft to move troops around in a tactical manner. Med-evac and casualty evacuation. They also do VIP support, flying around the prime minister or the minister of defense. The future capabilities they’ll be working for is an air-to-ground attack capability, which is what the coalition is providing now.
A little over a year ago, the Iraqi air force was kind of like a flying club. They flew about 30 sorties a week, with no command and control. Today, they have an air operations center, they have 73 aircraft, and in late April they set a record of 383 sorties in one week. They are engaged in the counter-insurgency fight at the same time they are building an air force. In just one year, it’s phenomenal progress, and our hope is that they can continue to contribute to the fight that is essential to Iraq.
A&S: What’s the structure of their fighter pilot force?
Bash: They used to have the largest air force in the Middle East, 500-plus aircraft. They flew MiG-25s, Su-27s, some of the older MiG-21s, Mi-17 helicopters. And some of those pilots have come back into the air force. Today you have a pilot force with more 50 percent between the age of 42 and 50, and those pilots have flown jets before. But they currently do not have the command-and-control capacity to have an effective air defense. That’s something that we’re working on now, and building over the next few years. As a nation, priority-wise, I do not see them committing the money to buy that kind of [fighter] air force when what they really need and what they’re building toward is more of a counter-insurgency force. So the air defense force would be a future capability as they grow their younger pilots and as that need develops, based on either coalition support decreasing or the regional threat increasing.
A&S: What happened to all the MiGs and Mirage fighters that flew under Saddam Hussein?
Bash: Well, we destroyed a lot of them. They buried some of them. A lot of them flew to Iran and they never got them back. You have a few parked around that are either hulks or static displays and that’s it.
A&S: Those will not come back into the air force in any way?
Bash: Absolutely not.
A&S: How long does it take to train new Iraqi pilots?