Pakistan hopes its deal to provide the Iraqi Air Force with Super Mushak trainer planes will lead to additional sales. (Sergey Ryabtsev/Wikimedia)
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan on Monday signed deals to supply basic trainer aircraft to the Iraqi Air Force and help train its personnel, sparking hopes it can secure further deals as the Middle Eastern country tries to rebuild its air arm.
Analysts are generally skeptical large-scale deals will be in the offing, but concede it is possible.
The Associated Press of Pakistan reported that agreements to provide training and development assistance for the Iraqi Air Force and for Super Mushak trainer planes were signed by the head of the Pakistan Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, and the commander of Iraq’s Air Force, Gen. Anwer Hamad Amen Ahmed.
A nine-member Iraqi defense delegation, which included the commander of Iraqi air defense, Gen. Jabbar Ubaid Kedhum, has been in Pakistan since last week, visiting facilities such as the Air Force academy at Risalpur and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, the home of Pakistan’s aviation industry.
According to a government press release, they also met with Pakistan’s minister for defense production, Tanveer Hussain, and were offered training and the full range of training aircraft, from basic propeller-driven planes to intermediate jets, plus communication equipment.
Defense Ministry officials here would not comment on the number of aircraft involved or the value of the Iraqi deal.
However, analyst Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said 20 aircraft, including training and spares, are being acquired for US $94 million.
The Super Mushak, a propeller-driven, two- to three-seat aircraft, is a Pakistani version of the Swedish Saab Safari/Supporter. With some modifications, it was built under license as the MFI-17 Mushak (Proficient), and serves with Pakistan’s Air Force and Army.
It is used for primary and basic flight training; instrument, night, navigation and formation flying; liaison; and forward air control. Six under-wing hardpoints can carry a range of light rockets, bombs and gun pods.
Pakistan has exported the aircraft to Egypt, Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
The Super Mushak features a more powerful 260-horsepower Textron Lycoming six-cylinder engine, electrical instrumentation, dual controls and a fuel injection system.
Twenty each are in service with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and it is a contender for Turkey’s basic trainer program.
The aircraft “is a very good buy, considering that it has an up-rated engine and glass cockpit now. It is a proven design and will serve them well,” Shabbir said.
But overall, Shabbir said the training deal is more important.
“The [Pakistan Air Force] trained Iraqi pilots in the past, [along with Iranian pilots during the Shah’s time], and this will open up further opportunities for both countries,” he said.
The training deal is for basic pilot training and worth US $90 million. Shabbir is optimistic about further deals, such as a C4I system similar to one sold to Bangladesh, and perhaps UAVs.
Despite this success, Brian Cloughley, a former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, , said Pakistan’s ability to secure further large-scale equipment deals is uncertain.
“From all accounts, the Iraqi delegation’s visit to Pakistan went very well, and they were especially impressed by the aeronautical complex at Kamra,” he said.
However, “The problem for Pakistan, so far as provision of manufactured aircraft is concerned, is that the Iraqis have already purchased almost all they need elsewhere. The Mushak is an excellent aircraft of its type, and it is good for Pakistan that a sale has been made, but in comparative terms, there isn’t much money involved,” he added.
Even the offer of further training deals may be too late.
“Pakistan is very keen to offer training to the Iraqi Air Force, but this is already being effected in the US for pilots, and ground crew have been learning English in Jordan,” Cloughley said.
“South Korea is also training pilots for the T-50IQs being supplied, and there is some training carried out elsewhere,” he added.
The South Korean KAI T-50 Golden Eagle is an advanced trainer jet/light multirole fighter. It is being developed into the FA-50 lead-in fighter trainer/light fighter.
Though it appears the mainstay of Iraq’s airpower will be 36 F-16IQ fighter jets, the future composition of Iraq’s Air Force is uncertain, and whether the FA-50 may interest Iraq is unknown.
At the same time, Pakistan has been promoting the somewhat similar Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder, and has showcased it to Iraqi officials.
Shabbir said that despite the acquisition of the T-50s, if Iraq is to opt for a high-low combination of aircraft types, Pakistan could have a chance.
Past deals indicate Pakistan could still secure some further defense sales, he said.
“Iraq has also bought armored vehicles ... from Pakistan as well, and there is a good chance of Pakistan bagging some of the small arms and ammunition [mortar and artillery] contracts,” he said.
Iraq purchased 44 Talha tracked armored personnel carriers and 60 Mohafiz internal security vehicles from Pakistan in 2006. ■