Iran eyeing Russian Su-35s for biggest potential fighter purchase in 30 years


The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) is considering buying Russian Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jets, according to its commander, Brigadier General Hamid Vahedi. It would be Iran’s largest acquisition of fighter jets in more than 30 years if allowed.

“The issue is on the agenda and we hope to be able to get these Gen 4++ (4.5) fighters in the future,” Vahedi said. Told Borna news agency on September 4.

He stressed that it is the general staff of the armies who will make the final decision rather than the air force. Furthermore, the IRIAF will most likely need an additional green light from Iran’s paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the strongest armed force in the country. The IRGC has consistently favored other projects, such as the development of indigenous armed drones and ballistic missiles, rather than importing weapons to modernize Iran’s regular armed forces.

Vahedi also clarified that the IRIAF now wants Su-35s rather than Su-30s. Since late 2021, there have been rumors that Iran will buy 24 Su-35s that Russia originally built for Egypt. These rumors have resurfaced in light of Vahedi’s latest statement and amid increased Russian-Iranian military cooperation unprecedented since the former’s invasion of Ukraine.

In mid-August, Iran gave Russia its first batch Shahed-129/191 and Mohajer-6 armed drones under a deal first unveiled by the White House in July. The delivery and Vahedi’s statement followed speculation that Tehran was supplying Moscow with much-needed attack drones for its war in Ukraine in exchange for Su-35s to modernize Iran’s antiquated air force.

It is also rumored that after Tehran acquires its first two dozen factory-fresh Su-35s from Russia, it could aim to produce more than 30 more Flankers locally to meet the IRIAF’s need for at least 60 new hunters.

At the beginning of 2021, it was reported that Iran was looking for 36 J-10C fighters from China. Interestingly, these 36 Chinese Generation 4.5 jets along with the 24 Su-35s that Tehran reportedly sought in Moscow later that year also add up to a total of 60 aircraft. If Iran had hoped to buy both, it would have been in line with very reasonable predictions made in recent years that Tehran might seek to protect itself by acquiring a mix of modern Russian and Chinese aircraft rather than becoming too dependent on Moscow or Beijing.

However, China was reluctant to trade J-10Cs for oil under a barter trade offered by Iran. On the other hand, Russia seems much more open than ever to expanding military-technical cooperation in light of the significant economic sanctions it has incurred for invading Ukraine. Therefore, Moscow may have offered Tehran more advantageous arrangements regarding the acquisition, or even the co-production, of its most advanced 4.5 generation fighter jets.

A series of accidents are increasingly plaguing Iran’s vintage air force. One of its older F-14A Tomcats acquired before the 1979 revolution crashed in the central Iranian city of Isfahan in June due to engine malfunction. Older American-built Iranian F-4s and F-5s, as well as Soviet-built Sukhois and MiGs, have also been lost in similar crashes in recent years, a clear pattern that increasingly demonstrates that the fleet of existing Iranian fighter jets is at the end of its tether.

The last time Iran imported new jets was in 1990, when it bought a simple 18 MiG-29A hardpoints and 12 Su-24MK gunners of the moribund Soviet Union. (Later, by chance, he confiscated Iraqi MiG-29s and French-made Dassault Mirage F1s, which had flown to Iran from Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and integrated them into the IRIAF .)

As part of its increased defense cooperation with Russia, Iran is reportedly looking to upgrade its obsolete Fulcrums to the MiG-29SMT standard, which could allow them to continue operating for a few more years until that Tehran finally has new, more efficient generation 4.5 fighters. .

Either way, any acquisition of new fighter jets in the near future would undoubtedly be a significant development warmly welcomed by this neglected branch of Iran’s armed forces.

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