New Systems Boost Iraqi Surveillance Capability

by Travis Sharp

Lynx II radar system’s electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) output (General Atomics)

While the election of Barack Obama heralds an impending change in U.S. policy toward Iraq, defense officials in Washington and Baghdad continue to focus on transforming the Iraqi military into a legitimate fighting force. Both the United States and Iraq seem to agree that no matter what President-elect Obama’s new strategy looks like, bolstering the strength and effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces will play a key role in stabilizing Iraq in the wake of U.S. troop withdrawals.

As Erik Schechter details in the latest issue of C4ISR Journal, the United States is in the process of selling Iraq six Lynx II radar units. With the Lynx II, Iraq will improve significantly its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. After training is completed for Iraqi pilots and ground crews, the Lynx II will allow Iraqi aircraft, flying above the range of shoulder-launched missiles, to track insurgent personnel and vehicle movements. Iraq will be able to patrol its own borders to watch for foreign fighters, weapons, and equipment entering its territory. Furthermore, due to its high-resolution output, the Lynx II will give the Iraqi military the ability to closely monitor specific geographic locations such as large gatherings of Iraqis, key cities such as Basra or Kirkuk, and the Green Zone.

The Lynx II operates in two modes: one mode generates radar ground images, while the other mode detects moving targets. The Lynx II can deliver high-quality images, up to a resolution of 10 centimeters, via datalink. Once the Lynx II transmits information to a ground-based operations center, known as the Ground Exploitation Station, moving target data can be plotted on a digital map to provide situational awareness about the battlefield.

The United States itself plans to use the Lynx II system on its new Sky Warrior unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are slated to enter service as early as 2009 and are derived from the General Atomics-designed Predator UAV.

The Iraqi military, however, does not have the requisite technology and bandwidth to operate UAVs equipped with the Lynx II. As a result, the six radar units Iraq receives from the United States will be mounted on piloted twin-turboprop King Air 350ER planes – planes which Iraq bought from the United States in January 2007 for $132 million.

While Iraq’s Lynx II-equipped King Air planes will have roughly the same radar performance capability as similarly outfitted American UAVs, the Iraqi planes’ flight time will be significantly less: King Airs will only be capable of eight hours in the air, whereas UAVs can last about 30 hours. This means Iraqi King Airs will have to land and refuel more often and, with only six Lynx II units being provided, will not possess the type of around-the-clock surveillance capability provided by the U.S. fleet of UAVs.


Baghdad’s acquisition of Lynx II radar systems adds an exclamation point to what has been a frenetic year of Iraqi military transformation. During the final week of July, the Department of Defense notified Congress about the proposed sale of $10.9 billion in U.S. military equipment and support to Iraq through the Foreign Military Sales program. The sale included 140 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks; 6 C-130J-30 Hercules transport aircraft; 160 M1117 Guardian armored security vehicles; and 24 helicopters (either Bell Armed 407 or Boeing AH-6 Little Bird) with AGM-114M Hellfire missiles and launchers. In early September, several news outlets reported that Iraq also is interested in buying 36 F-16 fighter jets from the United States.

According to Schechter’s reporting in C4ISR Journal, Iraq is not done yet. U.S. Air Force Col. Sean Frisbee, chief of staff of the Coalition Air Force Transition Team, told Schechter that the Iraq government recently submitted a letter of request to buy the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH-70), although that request is likely in jeopardy now that the Department of Defense scrapped the ARH program in October due to cost overruns. Iraq also is reported to be weighing whether or not to buy Hunter-class UAVs which, with a shorter range than Reapers or Predators and less demanding technology, could be integrated into the Iraqi military.

With the $10.9 billion arms and equipment deal announced in July, the United States has completed approximately $20 billion in Foreign Military Sales agreements with Iraq since 2005. According to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s July 2008 report, the United States also provided $17.9 billion in military-related aid – separate from Foreign Military Sales – since 2005 through the Iraq Security Forces Fund.


Providing Iraqi Security Forces with the equipment they need to achieve their objectives will help increase Iraqi soldiers’ confidence and effectiveness as the United States begins commencing troop withdrawals. Iraqi oversight of military equipment coming into the country, however, must be bolstered. If weapons are channeled toward dangerous insurgents and away from Iraqi Security Forces, Iraqi soldiers will lose legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people and the security environment in Iraq could take another perilous turn toward sectarian bloodletting.

The threat of insurgents capturing Lynx II radars is not realistic because insurgents would not have the manpower, equipment, or technology to steal and use the radars against U.S. and Iraqi forces. However, the transfer of these radar systems does provide the Iraqi military with a “dry run” opportunity to iron out its acquisition procedures in preparation for ongoing and future transfers of weapons that are much desired by insurgents – weapons like small arms, rocket propelled grenades, and light vehicles.

Deliveries of all types of weapons and equipment are sure to accelerate in the months ahead. Iraq must improve its acquisition processes now to stamp out corruption and make sure things are running as smoothly as possible. If Baghdad is unwilling to reform its procedures, the United States should not hesitate to slow or suspend weapons transfers until effective safeguards are put in place.