U.S. to deliver Iraqi F-16s to Arizona, where pilots training: Pentagon

Baghdad has ordered 36 of the $65 million Lockheed Martin Corp planes

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Iraqi F-16 fighters whose delivery has been delayed by security concerns will be sent to Arizona beginning in December so Iraqi pilots training there can use them to keep up their skills after completing their initial course, the Pentagon said on Monday.

The first three F-16 jet fighters will be delivered in December, with an additional plane being sent there each month thereafter through May, for a total delivery of eight aircraft, the Pentagon said.

Baghdad has ordered 36 of the $65 million Lockheed Martin Corp planes, but initial deliveries to Balad air base in Iraq earlier this year were delayed because of security concerns after militants from the Islamic State group overran much of the northwestern part of the country.

Contractors preparing the base for arrival of the F-16s had to be pulled because of the security concerns before their work was complete.

"Iraqi pilots will begin flying Iraqi aircraft in Tucson in January," said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Twenty-four Iraqi pilots are in the F-16 training pipeline in the United States, the Air Force said. Of those, 14 were training on U.S. F-16s with the 162nd Wing Arizona Air National Guard at Tucson International Airport. Four were awaiting F-16 training and another six were attending language training.

Since the security situation in Iraq prevents the planes from being delivered to Balad, U.S. officials decided to make the aircraft ordered by Baghdad available to Iraqi pilots in Tucson, in part to help them retain their skills after training, an Air Force spokeswoman said.

The Arizona Air Guard had space for eight more aircraft, she said.

The move is meant to be a "temporary solution until the security situation in Iraq is stabilized and the Iraqi aircraft can be delivered," she said.