As the U.S. helps the Iraqi government in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the country's military is missing one vital ingredient, air power. Tuesday, the Iraqis will get their first shipment of American-made F-16s, but they'll be delivered to a base in Arizona because Iraq is still too dangerous, reports CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan with this exclusive, inside look.
The Iraqi government has no combat-ready air force, just a few dozen outdated planes, which means it can't control its own airspace -- a major disadvantage in their fight against ISIS.
Mohammed Hama is head of his class at one of America's premier schools for fighter pilots, run by the Air National Guard, in Tucson. He's learning how to fly F-16s, the American-made, $60 million fighting machines with a top speed of about 1,500 mph.
"Being up there is, I mean, I can't describe it to you," Hama said. "You've got to be up there so you can feel the rush."
Captain Hama is practicing on jets in Arizona because the airbases where he would train in Iraq are under attack by ISIS. The 36 F-16s that the Iraqi government just purchased for nearly $7 billion dollars will be stationed in Tucson until security improves.
Flight instructor Julian Pacheco is fine tuning the Iraqi pilots. Students log 300 hours of flying time, learn how to conduct bombing raids and what to do if they're shot down.
He said he's certain he's building an Iraqi air force from the ground up.
"Currently, they don't have a great tactical presence in Iraq, and this is going to be a great way for them to join the fight to defend their nation," Pacheco said.
"If they're not ready to fly because their mind is somewhere else, then they let us know that, and we quickly take them off the schedule and give them the time that they need to collect themselves and report back to work ready to fly," Pacheco said.
The major question is when Iraq will finally be safe enough to host this new air force.
Commander Phil Purcell, who oversees training at the Arizona base, said he isn't sure when the pilots will actually be able to fly in missions, but he's trying to keep them from getting rusty and hopes to use the delay to their advantage.
"The only thing this allows us to do is, by having the aircraft here, we can give them more opportunity to gain more experience while they're here and waiting to go back home," Purcell said.
Captain Hama said the Iraqi people need their help now.
"They can't wait to see the F-16 actually flying over Iraq to provide some cover," he said.
There are 14 pilots training in Tucson, but CBS News couldn't show their faces because, if recognized, it could endanger them and their families back home. Captain Hama comes from a well-known Iraqi family and CBS News obtained clearance to use his image.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has asked the U.S. and its allies for more military training programs like this one, and he hopes to launch an offensive against ISIS this spring.
But with the Iraqi army unable to secure airbases and no U.S. or allied troops on the ground to help, there is no clear timeline for when the Iraqis can effectively join the fight.