Ukrainian An-124 loaded two Spanish Chinook Fs and flew to Iraq

Operations in Iraq are set to undergo a change as the Spanish Army kick-starts its deployment of the newly created Chinook F heavy transport helicopters. Iraq has emerged as the ideal location for the inaugural overseas assignment of these advanced aircraft. The Chinook F fleet will take over from the four Cougar helicopters. Those four currently involved in the Inherent Resolve mission. This mission is an international coalition endeavoring to strengthen Iraq in its battle against terrorism.

Ukrainian An-124 loaded two Spanish Chinook Fs and flew to Iraq
Photo credit: EMAD

The Spanish helicopter unit in Iraq, named Task Force Toro, will consist of three Chinook F helicopters, which will start their operations from the Al Asad Air Base located north of Baghdad. They will be under the operational control of the Operations Command. The Cougars currently operate from this strategic base, which is also home to a contingent of approximately 60 soldiers from the Army Air Mobile Forces [FAMET]. This group includes aircrew and logistics personnel who manage the helicopters. 

Initiating a move to Iraq, the first pair of Chinook Fs from the Transport Helicopter Battalion [BHELTRA] V were transported aboard Antonov 124s. This process required the helicopters to have their blades and some parts disassembled, as shown by images unveiled by the Army and Defense General Staff. These images illustrate the boarding and disembarking stages of the helicopters.

Spain's Chinook F will get IR surface-to-air missiles protection
Photo credit: Rotor and Wing International

Transportation of personnel

With the arrival of the massive Antonov 124 cargo aircraft in Baghdad, the Army seized the opportunity to transport the first pair of Cougar helicopters. This step signaled the beginning of the first phase of withdrawing these helicopters from Iraq back to home soil. More will be added to this ensemble during the second stage, including the third helicopter and additional essential operating equipment. 

These helicopters, part of the Famet detachment, primarily serve to transport personnel and materials for the international coalition, which has been operating in the country since 2014. They’re also utilized for the newly introduced NATO mission. 

When it comes time to deploy vehicles and aircraft for overseas missions, the Department of Defense often turns to Antonov aircraft. Their choice is predicated on the cargo plane’s exceptional payload capabilities. Indeed, the An-124s contracted through the logistics firm DSV— the Spanish army’s logistics operator—are the fastest means of transportation. Given the substantial space these helicopters necessitate, it’s impractical to transport them using the Air Force’s A400Ms.

First deployment

The Spanish Army’s Airmobile Forces did not deploy their Chinooks to Iraq for the first time. Instead, the earlier ‘D’ version marked their presence during Operation Inherent Resolve. This operation spanned from mid-2018, initiated by Spain launching the first helicopter squadron, until the end of 2020. This marked the beginning of the upgrade from the D to the F version of the Chinooks. 

The first deployment saw the successful transportation of the Chinooks aboard the Juan Carlos I, a navy flagship, to Kuwait in the initial stage. Following this, they journeyed in formation to their ultimate destination, neighboring Iraq.

Spain in Iraq

In Iraq, there are two major operations underway: Operation Inherent Resolve, led by an international coalition under U.S. command, and NATO’s Mission in Iraq [NMI], both involving Spain. 

Spanish troops soldiers in Iraq
Photo credit: The Olive Press

The interesting facet of NMI is that it’s under the strong leadership of Spanish Lieutenant General Jose Antonio Aguero Martínez, who assumed the role in May of the previous year. The Spanish military’s contribution to the effort is significant with 168 troops and a unit equipped with Cougar helicopters supporting the coalition. This effort is further bolstered by an additional 155 soldiers operating under the NATO umbrella. 

The primary objective of NMI is to strengthen the Iraqi security forces and military education institutions. This goal is achieved through a comprehensive program of training and mentoring for personnel from key Iraqi defense and security institutions such as the Ministry of Defense, the Office of the National Security Adviser, and various military schools and education centers. The operation strategically utilizes its base in Baghdad to conduct its mission.

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