Iraq’s air force is growing, slowly. The force still has no fixed-wing combat aircraft, but a handful of helicopters, transports, and surveillance aircraft have created a set of limited core capabilities. Bell Helicopter’s 407 was picked as Iraq’s ARH armed scout helicopter, and they may soon be accompanied by agreements to buy AT-6B light attack turboprops, Czech L-159 trainer/ light attack jets, and eventually even American F-16s.
Meanwhile, helicopters and armed Cessnas form the backbone of Iraq’s combat aviation power. The Bell 407 ARHs would operate beside Iraq’s fleet of Russian-designed Mi-17 medium helicopters (which have been armed), and a handful of Bell Huey-IIs are on hand for utility duties. Now a 4th type is entering service. Iraq is diversifying its options, and its fleet, with the first military order from France since 1990. An order that can serve in light utility, SAR(search-and-rescue), and armed scout roles.
Contracts and Key Events
Jan 7/14: Journalist Harry Boone snaps a picture of an Iraqi EC635 with the HMP-400 gun pod mounted. Sources: Sobchak Security, “EC635 Iracheni con Pod 0.50”.
June 2011: Delivery. DJ Elliott relays that the first 2 EC635-T2s are reported to have arrived (Arabic post, since removed) in Iraq.
The helicopters are said to be integrated with South African Ingwe anti-tank missiles, alongside the EC635 SAWS options of French Nexter NC-621 20mm cannon pods, and Belgian Herstal HMP-400 12.7mm machine gun pods.
Denel Dynamics’ Ingwe is a beam riding laser guided anti-tank missile, which gives it less attack flexibility than a semi-active radar homing missile like Lockheed Martin’s Hellfire or MBDA’s Brimstone. Denel Dynamics and Rheinmetall Denel Munitions are working on other Ingwe warheads, to broaden its use against a wider array of targets. Denel had targeted the EC635 platform for Ingwe integration, alongside Eurocopter’s A550 Fennec.
Sept 15/10: Weapons. Eurocopter and South Africa’s Advanced Technologies & Engineering (ATE) have finished the first set of EC635 Stand Alone Weapon System (SAWS) flight tests, with the Nexter NC-621 20mm cannon pod and FN Herstal HMP-400 12.7mm gun pod. The initial EC635 SAWS configuration for International Customers will also feature Denel’s Ingwe Anti-Tank Missile. SAWS is designed as a package for use on a variety of helicopters, including light scout machines.
Jan 1/10: According to Marco Dijkshoorn (Dutch Aviation Society/Scramble Magazine), Iraqi Registry number YI-293, an EC635T2+, was first test flown on Nov 9/09, and was shipped through Schiphol on Jan 1/10 for Iraq. Iraqi Registry number YI-270, an EC635T2+, had its first test flight on Dec 7/09. Receipt in Iraq has not been announced yet.
Oct 28/09: Weapons. A Nexter release covers export orders, and states that:
“In the aeronautical sector, Nexter Systems has just received an order from Eurocopter for 16 NC 621 [20mm gun] pods to equip EC 635 helicopters.”
Iraq is not the helicopter’s only operator, but its other owners use it in utility and light search-and-rescue roles, whereas Iraq seems determined to slot them into the niche formerly occupied by its Gazelle helicopters. Later reports would lend credence to this assessment.
March 25/09: French media report that Iraq has signed a EUR 360 million ($488 million equivalent) for 24 EADS Eurocopter EC 635 light twin-engine helicopters, plus training and maintenance, during a meeting in Paris between French defense minister Herve Morin and his Iraqi counterpart Abdul Qader Obeidi.
In February 20089, French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid the first French visit to Baghdad since Saddam’s overthrow by an American-led coalition. He promised French help to Iraq, and singled out defense as one area of potential cooperation. Morin also announced that Paris was going to “re-open a military mission to Baghdad” at the French embassy in Baghdad “from this summer… We want to return to the relations that France had (with Iraq) up until the 1980s [under Saddam Hussein, when] a large part of the Iraqi army was trained in France and equipped with French military equipment.”
Iraqi Minister of Defence Obeidi, in turn said the deal would reinforce the “independence” of his country and “facilitate the agreement with the United States on the withdrawal of American forces.” A number of Middle Eastern countries are careful to maintain defense supplier relations with several countries, as a way of spreading political risk and gaining influential friends. Saudi Arabia is perhaps the best example of this strategy, with separate land divisions equipped with American or French equipment, while dividing aircraft purchases between the USA and Britain, and buying top-line naval ships from France. Agence France Presse | Radio France Internationale.
Nov 2/08: A briefing [PDF] from Iraqi General Nasier Abadi, Vice Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces specifies Iraq’s interest in EC635s, which could be seen as Eurocopter’s successor to the famous SA 341/342 Gazelle.
EC635s can be armed, or used as a light utility and search-and-rescue helicopter. Sales have not reached the Gazelle’s impressive level of international success yet. Customers to date include Jordan (13) and Switzerland (18), both of whom use it in light utility and search-and-rescue roles. Jordan actually bought Portugal’s helicopters after the contract was cancelled, and Eurocopter reportedly claimed that disagreements over the integration of weapons systems played a significant role.
July 17/08: Rumors mention Iraq’s interest in up to 50 used SA 341/342 Gazelle helicopters from France or Britain. Saddam’s armies used the French Gazelle helicopters in an armed scout and light attack role from the 1970s onward, and Britain has deployed SA 341 utility variant Gazelles to Iraq since 2003.
* Eurocopter – EC632 P2/T2. The difference is their engines: P2 for Pratt & Whitney’s 206B2 turbines, and T2 for Turbomeca’s Arrius 2B2 turbines.
* Air Force Technology – EC 635 Twin-Engined Light Combat and Ground Support Helicopter, Europe
* Wikipedia – Eurocopter EC635