Iraqi F-16 Options Weighed

The Air Force is mulling options to provide Iraq with F-16 fighters to protect its airspace by the time of the planned US pullout in 2011. Reuters news wire service reported Wednesday that scenarios, including new-build aircraft and excess-inventory USAF assets, are being explored in an air sovereignty study being led by Air Forces Central that is due for submittal to Defense Secretary Robert Gates before year’s end. The news report cited Bruce Lemkin, who leads USAF’s international outreach. US and Iraqi officials discussed the fighter issue during Gates’ visit to Bagdad in July. In a related development, the New York Times reported earlier this week that Iraqi officials have discovered that Iraq owns 19 MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters that are in storage in Serbia and in need of restoration. These aircraft could potentially serve as an interim solution until F-16s are available.