Re-Arming Iraq

Our guest blogger is Peter Juul, a Research Associate at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

f16.jpgIn 2008, the Iraqi government went on a military spending spree, signaling its intent to buy large quantities of advanced weapons from the United States — including F-16 fighters and M1 tanks. In 2009, it’s preparing to go further, with Defense News reporting the potential purchase and refurbishment in the United States of 2,000 T-72 tanks. These potential arms deals are worth over $16.6 billion, and if fully realized will mark the re-emergence of Iraq as a major regional military power. While debates over the nature and pace of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (as mandated by last years Status of Forces Agreement) have taken up the space allocated to Iraq in our national political discourse, relatively little attention has been paid to the plans for the rearmament of Iraq’s conventional military.

Assuming all the pending arms deals go through, by 2011 Iraq will be stronger in conventional military terms than at any point since before the First Gulf War in 1991. Its land forces will have much improved armor capability, though this capability is offset by a lack of artillery. Iraq’s air force will possess a similar number of modern combat aircraft as it did in 1991, but will have no second- and third-line combat aircraft beyond light attack aircraft. Its naval situation will remain relatively unchanged. In sum, by 2011, Iraq will have regained its place as a major conventional military power thanks to U.S. arms sales and military assistance.

These sales (and associated training by U.S. military personnel) will substantially alter the security architecture of the Middle East. Iraq’s neighbors, which have grown accustomed to a weak Iraq over the past two decades, may (depending on internal Iraqi politics) have to deal with an increasingly assertive and confident Iraq in regional politics. While it’s unlikely Iraq will engage in any overseas adventures in the future, it is likely that Iraq will no longer allow itself to be ignored or pushed around by other regional powers. If Iraq manages to achieve a modicum of internal political stability in the near future – democractically or not – it will have the military muscle to back up claims to a greater role in the region.

Here are some of the deals signaled or cut by the Iraqi government over the past year:

Air forces:
– 36 F-16C Fighting Falcons – ~$3.6 billion
– 24 Armed Bell 407 helicopters (with associated equipment and armament) – $366 million
– 20 T-6 Texan trainers (with associated equipment) – $210 million
– 36 AT-6B Texan light attack aircraft (with associated equipment) – $520 million
– 6 King Air 350 intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft – $10.5 million
– 24 EC 635 light helicopters – unknown cost

Land forces:
– 2,000 Upgraded T-72 tanks – $6 billion
– 140 M1A1M Abrams tanks – $1.4 billion
– 156 Humvee variants – part of $2.16 billion package including M1 tanks
36 M113 armored personnel carrier variants – part of $2.16 billion including M1s
– 400 Strykers – part of $1.11 billion light armored vehicle deal
– 400 M1117 Armored Security Vehicles – part of $1.11 billion light armored vehicle deal
105,000 M16A4 and M4 rifles – $148 million
– 2,550 M203 grenade launchers – part of $148 million M16/M4 rifle package

Naval forces:
– 20 – part of $1.01 billion ship deal
– 3 Offshore Support Vessels – part of $1.01 billion ship deal

Total estimated cost: $16.634 billion (~$10.5 billion in direct military purchases from U.S. manufacturers, with $6 billion in refurbishment contracts.)

Iraqi Security Forces after arms sales:

Air forces:
16 UH-1H Huey transport helicopters
24 EC 635 light helicopters
24 Armed Bell 407 attack helicopters
28 Mi-17 transport helicopters
10 Bell Jet Ranger training helicopters
10 OH-58C training helicopters

112 total military helicopters

36 F-16 fighters
36 AT-6B light attack aircraft
20 T-6 trainers
12 King Air 350 ISR aircraft
9 C-130E/J transport aircraft
18 Cessna 172 basic trainers/ISR aircraft
8 Cessna Caravan 208 ISR/light attack aircraft (basically manned Predators)
8 SB7L Seeker light observation aircraft

147 total military fixed-wing aircraft

Land forces:
~2,100 T-72 tanks
140 M1A1M tanks
400 Strykers
210-434 BMP1 infantry fighting vehicles
20,000+ HMMWVs
~500 M1117 ASVs
325,000 M16/M4 rifles

Naval forces:
25 Coastal Patrol Boats
3 Offshore Support Vessels

By the time these sales are complete (~2011), Iraq will on paper have an army quantitatively and qualitatively equivalent to those of its neighbors. Its 2,250+ U.S.-upgraded T-72 and M1A1M tanks will be quantitatively equal and qualitatively superior to the armor forces fielded by Iran. Its armor forces will be quantitatively superior to those of Saudi Arabia, while being qualitatively equivalent (if slightly smaller than those) of Turkey’s. The Iraqi Army’s biggest handicap in conventional warfare will be its lack of artillery.

By comparison, the Iraqi Air Force will be relatively small compared to those of its neighbors. Should the potential F-16 deal go through, Iraq will have just 36 modern combat aircraft – compared to 254 in Saudi Arabia and 243 in Turkey. Its air force will be comparable to those of smaller regional power such as Kuwait (39 modern fighters) or Bahrain (21 modern fighters). While Iraq will have a greater number of modern combat aircraft than Iran (36 to 25), Iran will have a greater number of obsolete aircraft.

The Iraqi Navy will have a greater number of ships to patrol a shorter span of coast than will Kuwait (10 ships), Oman (11 small patrol ships), the UAE (14), and Qatar (21). Some of these Iraqi patrol ships will likely be used for riverine patrols. Additionally, Iraq will not possess ocean-going combat ships such as frigates or corvettes, making it incapable of patrolling deeper into the Persian Gulf.

In short, Iraq’s military will emerge from the war and occupation in better material shape than at any time in decades.