Keeping boots off the ground in Iraq, as the skies get crowded

While the Obama administration is trying its best to keep American boots off the ground in Iraq, the skies over the embattled Middle Eastern country are getting crowded.

Russian SU-25 fighter jets, to be flown by Russian pilots, have reportedly arrived in Iraq, while U.S. helicopter gunships have been tasked with supporting American troops sent to help secure the U.S. Embassy and Baghdad’s international airport. The U.S. has also been flying 30-35 daily surveillance missions over with a mixture of manned and unmanned aircraft, while to the north of the country, Iran has been flying drone sorties of its own.

Even though Iraq has an air force, it has taken a beating in the past weeks from Islamic State forces equipped with MANPADS and anti-aircraft guns. Currently, Iraqi forces are awaiting the shipment of F-16s — set to be delivered in August — as well as a number of Apache gunships to supplement their aging force of Soviet helicopters.

Iraqi commanders have depleted their stock of the Hellfire missiles and expressed concern about their lack of aircraft capable of firing more of them. The Iraqis have only a small number of modified Cessnas capable of firing the guided rocket and are currently awaiting more advanced aircraft.

As they await, the United States, Russia and Iran are all flying over the country. Here are some of the aircraft reported to be in Iraqi skies.

AH-64 Apache (U.S.): First flown in 1975, has gone through a variety of iterations. Carries Hellfire rockets and a 30mm cannon slaved to the gunner’s helmet.


An Apache helicopter takes to the air during an aerial gunnery exercise. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

MQ-1 Predator (U.S.): Both armed or unarmed aircraft being used. Can stay airborne for more than 12 hours and travel up to 450 miles. It is the younger brother to the MQ-9 Reaper, which is also in flight over Iraq. The Reaper can carry more weapons, stay in the air longer and travel farther than the older Predator.


Maintenance personnel check a Predator drone before a flight near the Mexican border. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

RQ-4 Global Hawk (U.S): A high-altitude unarmed drone that can stay airborne for around 19 hours.


An RQ-4 Global Hawk. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Northrup Grumman)

F/A-18 Super Hornet (U.S): Carrier-based fighter, first flown in 1995. Has a number of variants for different mission types. Most likely being flown over Iraq from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. George W. Bush, which is currently stationed in the Persian Gulf.


A U.S. Navy F-18 fighter jet flies over North Beach on the opening day of the Chicago Air and Water Show in Chicago. (AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong)

P-3 Orion (U.S.): First flown in 1959, it is a four engine turbo-prop aircraft used primarily for surveillance and anti-submarine operations.


Airman Timothy Aulman directs a “Fighting Tiger” P-3C Orion aircraft after its return from a mission. (Photo by Paul Farley/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

SU-25 (Russia): The SU-25 is known as the “Frogfoot” by NATO-aligned countries and is used primarily for close air support.


A Russian officer guards a Su-25 ground attack aircraft. (VYACHESLAV OSELEDKOVYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images)

Shahed-129 (Iran): While Iran has not identified the aircraft it is flying across the border, this drone, a Predator lookalike would be a likely choice. Iran is believed to have used the aircraft in Syria.


This picture made available by Sepah News, a service owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, claims to show the Shahed-129 in an undisclosed location in Iran. (AP Photo/Sepahnews.com)
Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a summer intern and a former U.S. infantry Marine.
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