Iraq Wants Hellfires – Lots and Lots of Them
As Iraq’s civil war heated up, the country found itself running out of laser-guided Hellfire missiles by mid-June. That prompted emergency shipments from the USA, but it also prompted a July trial balloon about shipping Iraq several thousand Hellfire missiles. By the end of July, the State Department felt confident enough to go ahead with an official notice to Congress.
The size of the 5,000 missile authorization plus the 500 missiles in Iraq’s AH-64E request, plus the hundreds of missiles delivered prior, illustrates the scope of Iraq’s request. The question is whether the size of the request foreshadows near-term contracts and delivery for AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, which would begin using the missiles at a higher volume than their tiny fleet of AC-208B Combat Caravan prop planes.
Contracts & Key Events
July 29/14: Request. The US DSCA announces Iraq’s official request for 5,000 AGM-114K/N/R Hellfire missiles and associated equipment, Hellfire missile conversion, blast fragmentation sleeves and installation kits, containers, transportation, spare and repair parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, parts, training and US government and contractor. The estimated cost is $700 million.
AGM-114Ks are the standard semi-active laser guidance Hellfire missile. AGM-114Rs are the most modern variety, with warheads that combine shaped charge and fragmentation effects for use against any target. The AGM-114N uses a thermobaric warhead that can suck the air out of a cave, collapse a building, or produce an astoundingly large blast radius out in the open. If Iraq were to cross the line from legitimate warfare and collateral damage to premeditated human rights abuses, this variant would be the most dangerous. Sources: US DSCA #14-33, “Iraq – AGM-114K/N/R Hellfire Missiles”.
DSCA request: 5,000 Hellfires and conversion kits
July 4/14: Intelligence? A weapon deficiency may not be Iraq’s biggest problem. The way they’re employing their forces makes it hard to use them effectively, and seems geared to stoking massive sectarian conflict:
“But even before the U.S. military left the country, the Iraqi government purged many of its best intelligence officers and assets because they were either Sunnis or Kurds… according to a senior intelligence official who spoke anonymously so that he could speak freely…. Michael Pregent, a former Army intelligence officer working on contract as an embedded adviser to the Iraqi security forces in 2008, obtained evidence that showed how politicized the Iraqi targeting process had become…. A confidential analysis of the [3,000 target] list by Americans in a targeting cell at the Baghdad Operations Center found that 95 percent of the targets were either Sunni men of military age, tribal leaders or other Sunnis listed simply as “the friend of a terrorist, father of a terrorist, grandfather of a terrorist,” Pregent said. No direct evidence of terrorist involvement was provided, he said.”
The Saddam approach to crushing an insurgency can work as long as you have the guns and technological superiority to pull it off. Iraq is shaky in terms of the weapons advantage, and that gets shakier if the rebels receive competent outside assistance. Can Iran help drown the Sunnis in manpower? And will the USA be able to continue supporting the Iraqi government if it plays by standard Mideast rules in a sectarian civil war? Sources: Washington Post via Stars and Stripes, “Iraq lacks ability to fly F-16s it seeks, US trainer says”.
July 2/14: Hellfires and Hesitations. The US State Department is reportedly pushing to sell 4,000 more Hellfire missiles to Iraq. That volume doesn’t make sense for a tiny fleet of AC-208B prop planes carrying 2 missiles each; it requires an AH-64E sale (q.v. Jan 27/14), which doesn’t have a contract yet. The sale would be in addition to the 500 Hellfires from that DSCA request, creating a very large reserve stockpile. One so large that unless deliveries were staggered, it could buffer the effect of any US sanctions if the Iraqi government misused its firepower against broad civilian populations.
So far, this is just an informal briefing to lawmakers. Members of the Senate and House foreign relations committees are conducting an informal review of the potential sale that could take up to 40 days, with a formal DSCA notification to come “unless lawmakers voice major reservations.” Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says that:
“The U.S. will need a detailed assessment on the remaining capabilities of a demoralized Iraqi army before deciding on further military support against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Gen. Martin Dempsey said…. “Will they hold? What’s their makeup? Are they still a force that represents all Iraqis?”
Intelligence capabilities are also being legitimately questioned, which are pushing the Iraqi government toward broad sectarian targeting instead of tactical strikes. Meanwhile, American AH-64 Apache helicopters have been deployed to Iraq, though the Pentagon won’t say how many. So much for “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq”. Sources: Bloomberg, “Sale of 4,000 U.S. Missiles to Iraq Is Readied” | Military.com, “Dempsey: US Must Reassess Iraq’s Ability to Fight” | Washington Post via Stars and Stripes, “Iraq lacks ability to fly F-16s it seeks, US trainer says” | The Hill, “Pentagon sends attack helicopters to Iraq” | White House June 19/14, “Remarks by the President on the Situation in Iraq”.
June 30/14: Deliveries. As the Iraqi government’s authority collapses in the north and west, US Defense Department spokesman Army Col. Steven Warren says that:
“I know we’re down to having delivered all but 100 of the recent purchase of 500 [Hellfire missiles] that the Iraqis made. There were shipments within the last week…. We expect that purchase of a total of 500 Hellfires to be closed out within the coming two or three weeks.”
The Hellfire’s main platform in Iraq is currently their AC-208 fleet. Sources: Pentagon, “U.S. Continues Military Aid to Iraqi Government”.
June 21/14: Out of Hellfires. As its northern cities and Sunni areas steadily fall, Iraq has a minor but significant problem:
“The Iraqi military ran out of Hellfire missiles six days ago, and though the U.S. is rushing more missiles into the country, Iraq has only two modified Cessna aircraft to launch them in their battle against the radical Islamic militia ISIS…. The losses have left the Iraqi military with no offensive capability, and no real air force. “
Iraq hasn’t had a real combat air force since Saddam Hussein’s era, and the best estimates didn’t expect one before 2017 at the earliest. The Iraqis do have armed Russian Mi-17 helicopters that don’t use Hellfires, and French EC635 scout helicopters whose armed status is uncertain. Russia has also agreed to sell them Mi-28 attack helicopters, but there are no signs of any in service yet. ABC News, “Iraqi Military Out of Hellfires in Battle Against ISIS”.
May 30/14: Deliveries. US Security Assistance Command touts its role in delivering 300 Hellfire missiles to Iraq through the Foreign Military Sales program. The Ac-208B is the missile’s key platform.
“Upon receiving a letter of request in January, USASAC began to work closely with the Aviation and Missile Command, Joint Munitions Command, the vendor and various other organizations in order to implement an emergency case…. “USASAC had the lead from an overall program management perspective,” said Will Collins, country program manager for Iraq…. A case for 300 Hellfire missiles completed formal congressional notification Feb. 22. Within a week USASAC received a signed letter of acceptance from the government of Iraq, and on Feb. 27 USASAC began implementing the case…. providing weekly updates to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.”
It wasn’t quite enough (q.v. June 21/14). Sources: US Army, “USASAC meets request”.
- DID – US Hellfire Missile Orders, FY 2011-2014. Explains the various models of Hellfire missile, and what they mean.
- DID – Bird Dogs for the Iraqi Air Force. Iraq’s core platform for Hellfires.
- DID – Iraq Seeks Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters. 24 IA-407s, all delivered. Hellfire missile status on the platform is unconfirmed.
- DID – AH-64E Apache Block III: The Once and Future Attack Helicopter. Iraq has placed a formal export request for 24 new AH-64Es, and 6 AH-64Ds from American stocks. No contract yet.
- DID – Iraq Orders Eurocopter’s EC635s. They don’t use Hellfires, though they can use South Africa’s Ingwe laser beam-rising missiles, with a more constrained attack profile. In a similar vein, Iraq’s Russian Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters use Russian missiles, not American Hellfires.