Iraq: Weapons – and Challenges – In the Pipeline
The last quarterly report [PDF] from SIGIR (the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction) included an interview with OSC-I (Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq) head Lieutenant General Robert Caslen.
Among other things, it provides an interesting breakdown of Iraq’s planned future purchases. Overall:
“We have 479 separate FMS [DID: Foreign Military Sale, where a branch of the US armed forces acts as Iraq's project and contracting agent] cases valued at $14.8 billion: 166 are pending cases valued at $2.3 billion, 152 are active Iraqi-funded cases valued at $11 billion, and 161 are closed cases valued at $1.5 billion. Of the closed cases, 85 were funded with $750 million from the Iraq Security Forces Fund (U.S. money) and 76 were Iraqi-funded cases valued at $750 million. We currently have 73 cases in development. OSC-I continues to push the total-package approach, which is equipment, training, maintenance, and sustainment for each case. We have FMF [US-funded Foreign Military Financing]… at $850 million, with $566 million obligated and $284 million still available.”
Iraq’s ongoing and planned requests include for F-16 fighters, C-130J medium aerial transports, and M1 tanks, among others. These American buys have been accompanied by multi-billion deals for Ukrainian transport aircraft and armored personnel carriers, and for Russian attack helicopters and point defense anti-aircraft units. According to Lt.-Gen. Caslen, There’s more to come for the Americans, including:
Caslen describes a $2.3 billion Integrated Air Defense System case as “near offer,” but it needs to go through the State Department’s slow DSCA request approval process, and hasn’t emerged yet. Iraqi requests for command and control systems and airspace monitoring radars have been very basic so far, leaving Iraq with just 2 airspace surveillance radars and 3 air-traffic-control radars, plus some Saddam-era anti-aircraft guns. Their first serious defensive systems will be short-range Pantsir S1 systems from Russia.
All we can promise is that Raytheon won’t be selling them Iron Dome systems. The potential for technology compromise to Iran makes a PATRIOT missile sale or approval unlikely, leaving Iraq to buy a serious theater level aerial command and control system, additional long-range surveillance radars (likely more FPS-177 family), and a short-medium range missile system.
Boeing’s very short-range Avenger systems offer mobility, and versatility that includes ground missiles and rockets as well as its FIM-92 Stingers. It would provide an alternative to the Russian Pantsirs that didn’t rely on jammable command guidance. Using it would help Iraq cover more points quickly, but it only offers point defense.
Raytheon/Kongsberg’s medium-range NASAMS system would provide a mid-tier of surveillance radars, and uses the AIM-120 AMRAAM as its main missile. Other missiles have been integrated and tested with NASAMS, including shorter-range AIM-9X and European IRIS-T missiles, and Raytheon’s longer-range RIM-162 ESSM. The catch for Iraq is that the USA declined to equip its F-16s with AMRAAMs, or the AIM-9X. This appears to be part of the USA’s efforts to allay regional security concerns among Israel and Iraq’s Arab neighbors, however, and an air defense installation could succeed where the fighter request failed.
Nearby Oman asked for both systems, in a $1.2 billion October 2011 DSCA request that aimed to modernize their own air defense capabilities.
Iraq already has AC/C-208B FAC/ light observation, T-6B trainer, KA-350 ISR, C-130J cargo aircraft, and F-16IQ fighter buys either completed or underway from the USA. They’ve picked the Czech L-159 jet trainer and light attack jet to fit between the T-6 and F-16, but haven’t signed a contract yet. On the helicopter front, they fly IA-407 armed scouts alongside their new Russian Mi-17s transport and attack, and European EC635 scout/ light utility helicopters. Russian reports have Iraq adding 30 Mi-28 attack helicopters as part of their $4.2 – $5 billion deal.
Iraq reportedly wanted the US Army’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, and Caslen says they’ll receive some soon. January 2014 should see 6 interim helicopters delivered as a lease, until a reported $3 billion case to purchase 24 Apache helicopters goes through. The question is whether the case will involve the new AH-64Es bought by the Saudis, and offered to peer customers like Indonesia and Qatar. As an alternative, the USA could offer Iraq the same AH-64Ds used by American forces in theater, without all of the cutting edge enhancements.
Making use of the Mi-28s and AH-64Ds could prove to be challenging. Caslen describes Iraqi targeting and intelligence collection and analysis with their RC-208Bs and King Air 350 ISR planes as “rudimentary at best.” With one very important caveat: “other than human intelligence.” Iraqis might fairly describe US human intelligence performance within Iraq as “rudimentary at best” for most of the war, and American fortunes didn’t improve until large-scale, en-bloc switches of allegiance by Iraqi fixed their problem.
Caslen does praise the IqAF’s C-130 transport force for a nighttime operational mission to Damascus in the middle of Syria’s civil war. Iraq was returning the bodies of over 40 defecting Syrian soldiers and officials who were killed in an ambush within Iraq by Syrian Sunni Islamists, while the defectors were being escorted by Iraqi troops.
Reports indicate that Iraq is operating ScanEagle UAVs, to help keep watch on its oil assets in the Persian Gulf. Caslen adds that Iraq also wants other UAVs, type unspecified, but that will require approval of their FMS request by the State Department’s DSCA.
Assuming that the request is made and the DSCA moves to submit it, the RQ-7B Shadow 200 tactical UAV is Iraq’s most likely option. It has been exported to many allies, and even semi-allies like Pakistan. The unarmed RQ-1 Predator XP, developed in conjunction with the UAE, is a bigger reach in all ways.
Above the Predator XP, Iraq has no American options. The USA has denied armed UAV exports to Italy, so Iraq has no chance of receiving those.
Iraq wants another 175 M1A1-SA tanks, and also wants about 250 M2/M3 Bradley Infantry Vehicles/ Cavalry Vehicles. That FMS request hasn’t been announced yet, but is expected to be for around $800 million.
Caslen offer this big-picture view of the force, and notes an issue with supporting some of Iraq’s key units under the new arrangements:
“They have one division that deals with external threats. The other divisions are all employed against interior threats. There are not a lot of external threats right now, other than what’s spilling across from Syria. Iraq’s chief objective, thus, is to defeat internal threats, and most of their ground forces are inside cities trying to deal with them. Now, that creates a dilemma for a number of reasons. One is you have central government forces working in provincial government jurisdictions, where they are competing not only with the provincial government but also with another ministry, the Ministry of Interior (MOI), which has jurisdiction over Iraq’s police forces.
…The Minister of Defense told me yesterday, “We are in a daily war with overflow and spillover from Syria. We are in a daily war along our Syrian border.” But, in order to do an FMF case on [border monitoring], I need a waiver because I do not have the authority to do it by law. Border security falls under the Ministry of Interior, yet the [US] Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act provide the authority to work only with the Ministry of Defense. When we had the Iraq Security Forces Fund authority, this was not a problem. It allowed us to address any security issue, be it at MOD or MOI. Now, under the FMS and FMF, we don’t have that flexibility.”
Few people pay attention to this, but without it, everything else crumbles. Lt. Gen Caslen’s on-the-record assemssment of Iraqi land forces highlights a serious issue, and it extends to air assets as well. The core issue is the low status of manual work in Arab society, which creates this pattern in many Arab countries. That’s great news for contractors who sell hefty maintenance and support packages, not-so-great news if those contractors don’t get hired:
“Iraq has a desire to hire somebody to do the maintenance rather than doing unit maintenance themselves. I’ll give you a vignette. When U.S. forces departed in December 2011, they effectively took with them the institutional base that logistically supported the Iraqi Armed Forces. U.S. forces had been the ones making sure everything was operating. About four months ago, I walked into the spare parts warehouse in Taji [DID: among other things, Iraq's most important armored division site]. That warehouse was beautiful. It had all the shelves intact, with all the spare parts on the shelves. It had all the computers for the automation for the inventory management in place. But when we walked up to the computer screens, they weren’t turned on. When we went to the parts on the shelf, we found that they had been sitting there untouched for a year. There was dust on all the parts and dust all over the shelves. They had not ordered a single spare part for the entire year of 2012. They weren’t using the automation database we built for them. I said, “How come you aren’t using the automation database?” They said, “Because the generators don’t work.” “Why don’t the generators work,” I asked? “Because they don’t have any fuel,” they answered…. When we left, it all crumbled [at the Taji warehouse], and the institutional base of the Iraqi Security Forces started crumbling too… Iraq didn’t have the resources to sustain what we left.”
To the extent that this remains true, none of the above acquisitions will matter.
Fixing it is going to involve a lot of contractors, and the removal of the US military sharply increases their cost to the government of Iraq. Caslen estimates that having Iraq pick up life support and security responsibilities for existing Foreign Military Sales projects alone will save US taxpayers $450 million per year.
Iraq may be able to fulfill these responsibilities at a lower cost, but new equipment will add to their burdens unless they rationalize and deepen their relationships with key suppliers, while containing corruption. That isn’t impossible, but neither is it anything that approaches a safe bet.