U.S. Approves More Hellfire Missiles for Iraq
Washington (WSJ + DIPLOMAT)- The U.S. government has approved plans to send an additional 5,000 Hellfire missiles to Iraq to help the embattled Baghdad government tackle the threat posed by Sunni militants, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
The $700 million deal for the missiles, made by Lockheed Martin Corp. LMT +0.44% , comes amid other signs that Washington is tackling a backlog of approvals for weapons sales to one of the largest defense-export markets for U.S. contractors.
Pressure on the Pentagon’s procurement budget has pushed U.S. defense companies to focus more on export markets. Iraq has emerged in recent years as one of the fastest-growing, with billions of dollars in deals for fighter jets, helicopters, armored vehicles, radar equipment and munitions.
In response to the expanding attacks in Iraq by forces centered around the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, the U.S. has stepped up surveillance flights over the country, and dispatched more than 700 U.S. forces there to determine how the U.S. might help. But U.S. defense officials have been concerned that weapons sent to Iraq could fall into hands of the ISIS forces.
The Pentagon already has expedited the sale of hundreds of Hellfires, which can be fired from planes and helicopters, to replenish Iraq’s stockpile. The request for 5,000 more was disclosed Tuesday by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which coordinates exports. The State Department has approved the proposed deal, and lawmakers have 80 days to decide whether it should proceed.
Lockheed said it had boosted Hellfire production in the wake of increased demand.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said he expected the 5,000 missiles, if approved by Congress, to be delivered in batches over the coming months. The U.S. has delivered 780 Hellfires to Iraq so far this year, including more than 450 arriving this month. Another 366 are due in August.
The State Department also this week approved the proposed award from Iraq of a five-year helicopter support deal valued at $500 million to the Bell unit of Textron Inc. Textron is still awaiting approval on plans to sell fighter training jets to Iraq
In June, Lockheed formally delivered the first F-16 of a multibillion-dollar order from Iraq for the fighters. It is due to deliver three more F-16s this year, though the U.S. government has yet to formally approve the aircraft to be flown to the Middle East.
Harris Corp., the military communications specialist, said Tuesday that it had recently booked an order from Iraq for military radios that seemed likely to be approved soon. “It’s a little small, but I think it’s significant,” Harris Chief Executive Bill Brown said on an analysts’ call. “It’s [made it] through the vast majority of the licensing from the U.S. government, so it feels very, very good.”
Adm. Kirby said the Hellfire missile approval is part of a broader U.S. effort to help shore up the Iraqi military while the Pentagon develops proposals to counter the Islamic State. “I take deep issue with this notion that the United States military, the United States military in particular, is not moving fast enough or doing enough,” he said.
Even if the U.S. steps up its military support for Iraq, Adm. Kirby said the U.S. role was likely to be limited.
“There is not going to be a U.S. military solution here,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen.”