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Iraqi F-16 pilots need years more training in U.S.

As the U.S. and Iran continue to launch airstrikes in Iraq against Islamic State group targets, Iraqi pilots learning how to fly F-16s in the U.S. are years away from completing their training.

The first two of 24 Iraqi pilots in the training pipeline could graduate as instructor pilots in fiscal 2017, but their training is based on experience and proficiency, not set timelines, said 1st Lt Jose Davis, a spokesman for Air Education and Training Command.

Those two pilots had been were expected to complete Flight Lead Upgrade training in September, but that has slipped until February or March, Davis said. Afterward, they will need to log at least 500 flight hours before beginning instructor pilot training. That can take between 18 months and 24 months, but the bottom line is they will begin instructor pilot training when they are ready.

"Just because they meet the minimum requirement of hours doesn't mean they will be accepted for IP [instructor pilot] training, so realistically they will likely not be ready for IP training until they have 600-700 hours of flight experience," Davis said in en an email. "Typically, a U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot has somewhere in the vicinity of 550-600 hours before they start their F-16 IP training."

The instructor pilot training itself is expected to take another three to four months, but that is a general estimate of how long it will take for them to complete the required flight hours, Davis said.

Of the other Iraqi pilots: 12 have completed initial F-16 qualification training; four are waiting for initial F-16 training; and six are attending the Defense Language Institute so they can take initial pilot training, he said.

Iraq has purchased 36 F-16s, but the Iraqi pilots will train on the planes in Arizona until the security situation in Iraq improves to the point that the fighters can be delivered there, Davis said.

The F-16s were supposed to be based out of Balad, Iraq, but as the Islamic State group overran much of northern Iraq last this summer, U.S. contractors preparing the base for the fighters had to be evacuated.

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