Iraq’s new air force took to the skies this week for the first time since the coalition invaded last year and disbanded the country’s armed forces, the US military said.
Iraqi pilots flew two Seabird Seeker SB7L-360 reconnaissance aircraft on what the US military described as “limited operations missions intended to protect infrastructure facilities and Iraq’s borders”?.
The two light reconnaissance planes are fitted with surveillance systems that can transmit live video images to ground forces. They are the first of a fleet that will eventually number 10 aircraft, the statement said.
Coalition forces and neighbouring Jordan have been training Iraq’s 162-member air force, which is expected to grow to around 500 by December 2004.
Former President Saddam Hussein invested a huge portion of the country’s oil wealth to equip his air force during the 1980-88 war with Iran.
At its height in the late 1980s, it listed nearly 750 combat aircraft, including Soviet MiGs and Sukhois and French Mirage fighters.
British military trainers helping form the new force are focusing on map-reading and navigation.
“The old air force had previously placed more of an emphasis on getting airborne before receiving direction from the ground on operational details and destinations,”? the statement said.