The Obama administration has approved a massive sale of thousands of guided bombs and missiles for Iraq’s new F-16 fighter jets, which joined the air campaign against Islamic State militants in September.
The deal includes more than 16,000 laser-guided bombs, weapons that would dramatically bolster the warplanes’ firepower. It also includes 24 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, which could be used to shoot down ISIS drones or other enemy aircraft. Also included in the proposed sale are helmet-cueing systems, which allow a pilot to aim at a target by simply looking at it.
“Iraq requires these additional weapons, munitions, and technical services to maintain the operational capabilities of its aircraft,” the Pentagon said in a statement Wednesday. “This proposed sale enables Iraq to fully maintain and employ its aircraft and sustain pilot training to effectively protect Iraq from current and future threats.”
Iraq purchased the first of 36 F-16s in 2011. The jets are built by Lockheed Martin in Texas. The first four planes arrived in Iraq in July and three more are expected to arrive in the coming weeks, said Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S. coalition fighting ISIS. Baghdad began flying its F-16s in the air campaign against ISIS in September.
The U.S. Air Force trains Iraqi pilots in Arizona. One of those jets crashed in June, and the Iraqi pilot at the controls died.
A key objective of the Obama administration’s ISIS policy has been to enable the Iraqi military and allies. Wednesday’s announcement of the Iraqi bomb deal came hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said more American troops would likely deploy to Iraq to train Baghdad’s forces.