Iran’s secret underground air force installation, codenamed “Eagle 44,” was made public on Tuesday. According to IRNA, Iran’s state-run news agency, the first such site will house fighter jets equipped with long-range cruise missiles.
The photos show Iranian personnel and US-made F-4E Phantom II fighter bombers purchased before the 1979 revolution inside the facility.
Iran had already revealed its subterranean sites equipped with armed drones and ballistic missiles in official movies and photographs. It issued similar threats, stressing that it would defend itself and strike back if attacked.
The Eagle 44 is the first of its kind with combat aircraft. It is not clear if this is an expansion of one of those previously revealed facilities. Iran has not disclosed the location of the new base.
IRNA’s emphasis on the planes’ long-range cruise missiles shows that Iran plans to use its aging fighter jets not for air defense but rather to strike ground or naval targets from a safe distance in the case of an assault.
Iranian military chief General Mohammad Bagheri may have been alluding to this when he said, “Any attack on Iran by our enemies, especially Israel, will witness a retaliation from our various air force facilities.,” which includes the Eagle 44.
Iran’s state-affiliated Tasnim news agency also reported on Tuesday the unveiling of a new Iranian air-launched cruise missile dubbed ‘Asef.’ He said the missile was built to be used by the Soviet-era Su-24 Fencer bombers of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF).
The Su-24s of the IRIAF is part of the 72nd Squadron. Iran anticipates receiving Russian-made Su-35 Flanker-E fighters this year, and this Squadron has been called “a specifically reliable cadre” of the air force.
Before this, Tehran had already issued its cruise missiles, intended for use with its aging fighter planes. Iran showed off the Qased three air-launched cruise missiles in January 2019, which Iranian media said would be mounted on Iranian F-4Es.
In 2018, an official from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force bragged that the paramilitaries had ten Soviet-era Su-22 Fitter fighter bombers, which had been on the ground for 28 years, overhauled and modernized. The upgrades included the ability to fire cruise missiles with an assumed range of 1,500 kilometers (932 mi).
Reportedly, F-4s, Su-24s, and F-14 Tomcats of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) were outfitted with Noor anti-ship missiles. Since the 1980s, Iran has invested heavily in air defenses to fend off any assaults from abroad.
On September 22, 1980, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attempted to neutralize Iran’s most advanced air force with a large-scale surprise attack inspired by Israel’s successful destruction of the Egyptian Air Force in the Six-Day War of June 1967.
Despite this, Iran had wisely prepared for the war by constructing multiple fortified aircraft hangars, having learned from Egypt’s failure in that conflict. As a result of the air attack, Iraq lost more planes than it could down on the ground, making it a catastrophic failure.
It is widely believed that Israel would use its F-35s first if it launched an airstrike against Iran’s nuclear program. These fifth-generation stealth fighters would primarily target and suppress advanced Iranian air defenses, especially the long-range S-300s, locally made Bavar-373s, and possibly future S-400s.
Eliminating such systems would allow more heavily armed Israeli F-15s, dubbed “trucks” because of their large payload, to carry out ground attacks, possibly using bunker busters and other powerful munitions.
The advanced Israeli F-15Is and the F-15EX that Israel officially requested can carry a variety of advanced weaponry, including up to 12 beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles.
Given these advanced technological capabilities and firepower, Tehran has probably concluded that much of its old fighter fleet would have little or no chance of hindering such attacks.
The very presence of Eagle 44 indicates that these elder Iranian forces would remain stationed underground until after such an airstrike concluded.
When they finally did emerge, they would launch a counterattack utilizing long-range cruise missiles in addition to ballistic missiles and drones, most likely targeting specified fixed targets like military bases across the region.