Bash: About as long as it takes us in the United States. We put them through a one-year program. We started pilot training for the Iraqis just last October. We have 18 students in that class and 13 have soloed now. The progression is initially a Cessna 172, which is very similar to what we do in the States. We move on to a Cessna 208 Caravan, a little bit more complicated type of aircraft. They’ll go through a program with simulators and English-language training, and have an IFR [instrument flight rules] rating when they’re finished in about a year. That gives you a really raw pilot at that point. Then you have to let them fly for another three to five years before they could be a captain or an aircraft commander. That’s very similar to how the U.S. does it.
One of the pilots who soloed two weeks ago had never driven a car in his life. He did just fine. The 172 simulator is a great simulator. It’s funny; these young guys get in the simulator and spend time flying it around, and they’re becoming better instrument pilots than the 45- and 50-year-olds. The old Iraqi air force never flew IFR or nighttime [missions] very much. The new air force will have that capability.
Perhaps the more difficult challenge is all the other portions of an air force that need to be built. You need to have maintenance. In the United States, it takes five to seven years to grow maintainers to the point where they can understand and sign off on all the systems. You need firemen. You need air traffic controllers. You need medics. So part of our job is to train all of those as well, so that you have an air force that can function besides just flying aircraft.
A&S: When did the training for those positions begin?
Bash: The training for a lot of those career fields started last summer in a small way. We currently have about 300 to 400 in various types of training, and we’re going to move up to assessing 300 a month by this summer.
A&S: Iraq has ordered eight Beechcraft King Air 350s, with options to buy eight more. What will it do with those airplanes?
Bash: The first one arrived in December, and it’s a trainer. They will receive five more starting in June, which will be ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capable. They’ll have full-motion video, FLIR (forward-looking infrared), kind of a track-ball Predator (unmanned aerial vehicle) capability. The rest will be light transport aircraft that will be used for battlefield mobility and also to get the young pilots some more experience.
A&S: Does Iraq plan to put any weapons on either the King Airs or the Cessna 208s?
Bash: Not the current Cessna 208s. They have three ISR-capable 208s, which are similar to the King Airs. They have two additional 208s that they are using for flight training. Those will not be weaponized. However, starting in December we will receive the first armed Cessna Caravan with the capability to fire an AGM-114 Hellfire missile. That will go on three Cessna 208s delivered in December, and then on two more [delivered] early next year. That’ll give them their first true air-to-ground capability, with laser designator, similar to what our Predators do, but they’ll be manned.
A&S: Will the Iraqi air force ever get combat UAVs?