Saddam Hussein Animal Park to Become
New Iraqi Air Operations Center
In December 2009, I was among a team of United States Air Force (USAF) and government officials who participated in an interface control working group (ICWG) meeting with the Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) regarding the Iraq Air Command and Control System (I-ACCS) program effort; a pseudo-foreign military sales acquisition program funded by the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq (MNSTC-I) and the Iraq Training Assistance Mission (ITAM) from the USAF. In addition to meeting with the Iraqi air force, civil aviation authorities and numerous contractors involved with the effort, our team also conducted extensive site surveys of construction, military and commercial radar and air traffic management facilities, and fiber-optic man hole duct works related to the contract effort throughout various installations within the Victory Base Complex (VBC) and the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP).
In a departure from our preferred editorial style, I will devote this months feature story to a photo-essay approach using selected photographs I captured while in the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR) to attempt to visually illustrate the highlights of my trip to Iraq that would be of most interest to our readers.
LEAD PHOTO CAPTION (ABOVE):
Numerous anti-aircraft weapons sit in a “de-commissioned” state as an outcome of the first gulf war courtesy of USAF and USN attack aircraft. These soviet make weapons are still situated adjacent to then high-priority targets such as this former palace (also pictured below) belonging to Saddam Hussein, now occupied by the U.S Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) Air Component Coordination Element.
NO TOURIST BUS ALLOWED
One of Saddam Hussein’s numerous palaces located within the perimeter of the sprawling Victory Base Complex, originally built as a residence for one of his sons girl fiends. The grounds are now home to both USAF ITAM and the IqAF Air Operations Center which is due to relocate to a new facility at Camp Hawk. Note the presence of the radar mast at left-center and the extensive concrete T-Walls used to minimize blast fragmentation effects from insurgent mortar and rocket attacks.
BY THE SEAT OF OUR FLIGHT SUITS
Iraqi Air Force Air Battle Planners operate computer terminals at the current Air Operations Center (AOC). Note the white board (far right) depicting current weather data, and the large plasma displays at center, one of which is tuned to the United Arab Emirates Dubai based Alarabiya television news station. Mounted on the wall at left below the exit sign are the radio frequency designations for Iraqi Air Force assets, below which sits the ground-to-air radio equipment used to communicate with Iraqi air vehicles and other IqAF bases. The IqAF is presently using an excel spreadsheet to prepare and communicate the daily air tasking orders (ATO) and operates multi-generation defunct X86 Microsoft computer terminals, all of which is due to be replaced when this facility relocates to Camp Hawk.
Adjacent to USAF Camp Sather, two hardened Iraqi Air Force bunkers show the battle damage incurred from attacks prosecuted by coalition bombers and attack aircraft in the first gulf war. Note the presence of the blast fragmentation T-Walls topped with razor wire at far right, beyond which lies the active flight line. Also note the communications building and antenna/radar masts atop the bunker at center-right. The presence and corresponding noise of Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters, F16 fighters, and C-17 Globemaster III, C-5 Galaxy and Antanov heavy airlifters throughout the VBC air-space would best be described as incessant, day and night.
ITS A ZOO OVER THERE
Located at the site of what was once the private wildlife sanctuary of Saddam Hussein, Camp Hawk will become the home of the new IqAF Air Operations Center. Pictured above is one of the numerous aquatic animal holding tanks and yet another Hussein palace just beyond. The grounds are surrounded by an extensive concrete moat and include numerous animal habitat pens for lions, hippopotamus, zebras and other exotic animals including tigers and similar predatory hunters.
UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
Turkish nationals from the 77th Contracting Company under the direction of the United States Army Corps of Engineers construct footings for the new IqAF AOC at the site of a former hippopotamus watering habitat belonging to Saddam Hussein at Camp Hawk. The project will establish modernized facilities and equipment to include a new ground-air transmit receiver tower (GATR), providing air picture and battle management capabilities for the fledgling Iraqi Air Force.
ENTRANCE TO NAMAB
The entrance to the Iraqi Air Force New Al-Muthana Air Base (NAMAB) in Baghdad features this entrance sign depicting the newly operational Lockheed Martin C-130J tactical air lift wing. NAMAB is undergoing extensive renovation after having been devastated by coalition air forces in the gulf war conflict.
A GOOD START
In the hangar at NAMAB, I managed to capture this image of one of the brand new IqAF 87 Squadron Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350ER Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft. These aircraft are used by the IqAF to provide border surveillance, monitor insurgent activity and patrol critical national infrastructure assets such telecommunications lines, oil and gas pipelines, and other civil and military facilities. Note the Iraqi flag above the tail number at far left, and the sensor package at the aircraft centerline to include ground-looking radar and electro-optical sensors.
IN CASE OF ATTACK
Due to the presence of insurgent projectile attacks, concrete shelters covered by sand-filled HESCO blast fragmentation protection containers are quite literally around every corner at the Sather Air Base facility within the VBC. An audible alarm would sound upon the detection of inbound fires, at which time you have approximately 15 seconds to find and enter a shelter such as the one depicted above, or take your chances by crouching adjacent to a concrete T-Wall. Individual body armor (IBA) such as the helmet and ceramic insert protective jacket I am wearing is required for all missions incorporating military air lift (MILAIR). Note the presence of the camouflaged tent over my left shoulder, a designated smoking area useful for lighting up Cuban cigars acquired at the duty-free in Kuwait International Airport.
NO TANKS ALLOWED
Hundreds of mine resistant, ambush protected (MRAP) 6 X 6 and 4 X 4 vehicles such as these are present throughout the VBC. These heavily armored formations are used for a variety of mission applications such as route clearance teams (RCT), convoy escort for the thousands of tractor trailers that travel in and out of the VBC daily, and ground transit to and from the international zone (the IZ) on the east side of Baghdad. The condition of the road net is quite poor due to the enormous volume of vehicular traffic. Numerous road signs appear depicting a tank with a red circle and slash indicating no tracked vehicles (such as the Bradley infantry fighting vehicles I observed) are allowed on a particular road, route or parking area.
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