The rebirth of Iraq’s airlift squadron emerged from the Iraqi political situation in the summer and fall of 2004. The Jordanian government offered a gift of 16 helicopters and two C-130 aircraft to augment the force. The Iraqi Air Force's long-range tactical airlift capability was initially supported by two C-130B Hercules transport aircraft, which were to become operational in October 2004 and based at Baghdad Air Station. Each Hercules is capable of transporting 92-troops or 42,000-pounds of freight over a distance of 2,000-miles. Each is manned by a crew of two pilots, a navigator, an air engineer and a loadmaster. A five-man crew from Squadron 23 of the Iraqi Air Force trained for the first time on flying and operating an American C-130 cargo plane outside of Iraq's air space.
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), under the leadership of Ambassador Paul Bremer stood down on 09 June 2004, handing sovereignty to the new Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. In mid-October 2004, the IIG made a request to senior U.S. government leaders for air transportassets, preferably C-130 aircraft, to be used as executive transport for Mr. Allawi. The U.S. and itscoalition partners had provided airlift support to the IIG head-of-state in the prior months, but the realdesire was for an Iraqi-owned aircraft marked with Iraqi colors. The USAF determined that three C-130E aircraft could be provided to Iraq via the excess defensearticles (EDA) program. These aircraft were made available for transfer to Iraq as part of the planned drawdown of the USAF’s C-130E fleet. All aircraft were in serviceablecondition and equipped with appropriate defensive systems for operating in a combat environment. Neither the Iraqi Ministry of Defense (MOD) northe Iraqi Air Force had the resources necessary to facilitate purchasing the spare parts, support, and training packages required to ensure mission success.
On January 14, 2005 the 23rd Iraqi Air Force Squadron was reactivated at Ali Base in Talil, Iraq. At this time the Iraqi Honor Guard was presented with three C-130 aircraft. Two days after they completed their first training flight on a C-130 cargo plane, a crew consisting of an engineer, load master, navigator, and pilot from the 23rd squadron flew their first mission on February 12th of flying Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi round trip from Baghdad to As Sulaymaniwah West.
As of July 2005, there were 19 Iraqi C-130 personnel being trained in the United States. Language training and flight training were being conducted at Al Ali Air Base. Crews had previously trained in Jordan on the UH-1H and Seeker. On 09 February 2005 a crew of U.S. Air Force pilots used a five-hour round-trip flight to Amman, Jordan as a training exercise for the Iraqi pilots and crew members. Five other crews from Squadron 23, of Ali Base in Talil, Iraq, were passengers on the flight, heading to training in Jordan. One crew will continue traveling to the U.S. for Hercules simulator training in Little Rock, AR. All of the squadron members are experienced crews who are strengthening and expanding their skills after a 12-year lapse under Saddam Hussein's rule. This was their first time in the seats of a C-130. The next phase of training will focus on dealing with emergencies, approaches and landings, and general flying skills.
Two days after their first training flight on a C-130 cargo plane, a crew from an Iraqi Air Force squadron were back in the cockpit Feb. 12 for their first mission: flying Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi round trip from Baghdad to As Sulaymaniwah West. The Iraqi pilot who flew the aircraft described the mission as a great honor, one he was grateful to participate in. Allawi arrived at the landing zone by helicopter and quickly greeted the Squadron 23 crew as he boarded the cargo plane.
The C-130 aircraft had never been a part of the Iraqi Air Force inventory, so no Iraqi aviators ormaintainers had any prior C-130 experience. No training infrastructure (classrooms, aircrew trainingdevices, training materials) existed in Iraq, and no Iraqi students were programmed into any USAF C-130 training programs. Fortunately, the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) had reached an earlieragreement during the CPA’s tenure to provide some initial qualification training to a small number ofIraqi aircrews and maintenance personnel. The RJAF flies the C-130H model and did a superb jobtraining the initial Iraqi Air Force aircrews and maintainers in the C-130. This provided the Iraqi AirForce the critical jump start they needed for familiarization with the aircraft.
The fleet was intended to grow to six aircraft by April of 2005. As of July 2005, the Iraqi Air Force was conducting operational missions while equipping and training. At that time the Air Force had 3 C-130s.
On 30 September 2009 the Iraqi air force officially began fully independent C-130 air operations, marking the end of the U.S. C-130 air advisory mission. A ceremony deactivating the U.S. Air Force’s 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron and marking assumption of C-130 operations, maintenance and training by the Iraqi air force’s Squadron 23 formalized the milestone. Presiding over the event were U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert C. Kane, commander of the 321st Air Expeditionary Wing and director of the Air Force’s Iraq training and advisory mission; Staff Lt. Gen. Anwar Hamad Amen Ahmed, Iraqi air force commander; Brig. Gen. Kareem Ali Abud, commander of the Iraqi air force’s New Al-Muthana Air Base; and Col. Christopher Pehrson, commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Group. Squadron 23 is the largest C-130 squadron in the Iraqi air force, and its mission includes delivering troops and cargo, supporting distinguished visitors and flying medical evacuation missions.
As of January 2011 they had plans to add the C-130J model to the inventory. The newer Hercules aircraft would provide a longer range and more reliable transport for Iraqi forces. It then had three C-130E models that are more than 40 years old.
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