Iran will soon receive the first batch of a new fleet of Russian fighter jets. The 24 Su-35 strike fighters are arguably Russia’s most technologically advanced fighters, and they’ll be a major shot in the arm for the Iranian air force, which has not acquired a single new fighter in the 21st century.
Here’s what you need to know about this major injection of new technology into one of the world’s most outdated air forces.
Shephard Media, quoting the Islamic Republic News Agency, reports that Iran will take delivery of the 24 new Su-35 strike fighters “in the coming weeks.” The deal with Russia was first reported in March 2023, so the two countries are working fast to complete the deal. According to Scramble, a Dutch aviation website, Iranian pilots have been training for the new jets since at least September 2022.
Russia originally built the Su-35s for Egypt, but the sale would have invoked U.S. sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Section 231 of CAATSA slaps sanctions on countries “engaging in significant transactions with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.” The United Aircraft Corporation—the umbrella corporation that controls the famous Russian MiG, Sukhoi, Tupolev, Yakovlev, and other aviation companies—is on the sanctions list. Egypt, fearful of being sanctioned, backed out of the deal as a result. Iran is already named an “American adversary” under CAATSA, and is under State Department sanction, meaning it can buy the planes without further penalty.
The Su-35 fighter jet, known to NATO as the “Flanker-E,” is the latest in a long line of strike fighters descended from the original Su-27 Flanker. The Su-27 is a twin-engine, single-seat fighter jet with a top speed of Mach 2.25 and up to 12 hardpoints for carrying air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, sensor or jamming pods, and external fuel tanks; it’s considered a fourth-plus-generation fighter jet, roughly comparable to the American F-15EX Super Eagle. The jet is highly maneuverable and a favorite at air shows, but lacks stealth to keep it off enemy radar.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) was established in 1979, inheriting a large and powerful fighter force that the deposed Shah of Iran built. The force was a reflection of the Shah’s tendency to binge-buy Western military equipment, including F-5E Tiger II fighters, F-4 Phantom IIs, and even F-14 Tomcat fighters. (Washington D.C. politely turned down the Shah’s request to buy the SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance aircraft.) Iran also added a small number of Russian MiG-29 fighters and Su-24 attack jets in the 1990s.
Under sanction for much of the last 44 years, Iran has been forced to rely on more or less the same aircraft fleet. An inventory count by Flight International still lists 63 F-4s, 35 F-5s, and 41 F-14s on active duty. Most air forces have long since retired these jets, and sanctions have only exacerbated Iran’s difficulties in keeping the old planes flying. Although the U.S. still sanctions Iran, a United Nations sanction against selling the country conventional arms expired in 2020.
Iran considers itself a major political and military player in the Middle East; it also has a list of avowed enemies including the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Iran’s lack of competitive air power has forced it to compensate in other sectors, including drones and ballistic missiles. Su-35s will allow Tehran to flex its air power muscles, especially over the Persian Gulf, where it might run into Saudi, Kuwaiti, and UAE fighter jets.
Growing Ties Between Iran and Russia
The Su-35 jets are just the latest sign of growing cooperation between Iran and Russia.
For instance, Moscow turned to Tehran in the summer of 2022, as it sought to replenish its supply of drones for the war in Ukraine. Russia has reportedly ordered 1,700 Iranian drones of various types, including the Shahed-131 and -136 kamikaze drones, and the Mohajer-6, and the Russian military has used them to attack targets in major cities, particularly Ukraine’s energy grid.
Russia’s bungled invasion of Ukraine has forced the two countries—considered pariah states by much of the outside world—closer on matters of diplomacy and arms transfers. Iran is one of the few countries in the world that will supply weapons like drones to Russia, and Russia is one of the few countries in the world that will supply Iran weapons like fighter jets.
There are some concerns that the two countries, along with China, are gradually forming a loose, new military alliance; the three countries participated in joint naval exercises in March. It’s not clear how much cooperation is planned, but Moscow also reportedly asked for ballistic missiles and other munitions, and that has not yet happened. This suggests that whatever the growing relationship is, Iran is still concerned about how Russia intends to use its weapons—and how that might make Iran look to the rest of the world.
This is a case of international sanctions and pressure pushing two bad actors together out of necessity. If the sale goes smoothly, Iran could have an appetite for at least 100 Su-35s, and Russia, needing hard currency or something to trade to keep its invasion going, would be likely to oblige.
This is probably not Iran’s last purchase of Russian military equipment.
Source » popularmechanics