Unconfirmed reports in the Iranian press suggest that the country could receive the first batch of Su-35 Flanker-E fighters it ordered from Russia in the coming weeks.
In an article that authorities have since removed, the Islamic Republic of Iran News Agency (IRNA) reported that the plans, also known as “Super Flankers,” would soon arrive in Iran.
In light of the deletion of the article and previous rumors that the plans started arriving in April, and statements, such as one that the plans would start arriving in March, which ultimately turned out to be premature or outright false, one must Take this news with a grain of salt.
However, the arrival of the Super Flankers in the not-too-distant future will undoubtedly mark a milestone for the Iranian air force, officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF). The IRIAF has not imported a new fighter in 33 years. But you have to go back 47 years to find such a significant fighter acquisition for Tehran.
In 1976, Iran began taking delivery of the first of 80 F-14A Tomcats it ordered from the United States in a landmark deal. Tehran eventually received 79 of them before the 1979 Islamic Revolution ended close ties between Washington and Tehran.
Despite the US arms embargo and the chronically unreliable TF30 engines, the IRIAF’s legacy F-14As, often flown by pilots previously imprisoned and tortured by the new Islamist regime, fought through the eight-year war from They will go against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, shooting down many enemy plans.
Equipped with the powerful AWG-9 radar and armed with the AIM-54 Phoenix long-range air-to-air missile that could hit targets up to 100 miles away, the Tomcat was a formidable opponent and a true air superiority fighter.
While the truly cutting-edge for its time fourth-generation fighter served Iran well, the time has eventually caught up with it. Iran’s rivals have acquired more advanced and modern aircraft in recent decades.
Iran bought a fleet of MiG-29A Fulcrum fighters from the Soviet Union in 1990. However, its F-14s “outperformed” the much more modern Fulcrums, which is why the IRIAF did not buy large numbers of those Soviet fighters.
The following year, Iraqi Air Force planes, including French-made Mirage F1s, were flown to Iran to prevent destruction by the gigantic US-led multinational coalition in the Persian Gulf War. Tehran confiscated them and put most of them at the service of the IRIAF.
Iraqi Su-25 Frogfoot attack planes served in the air arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and were later returned to Iraq in 2014 to help Baghdad fight the Islamic State group.
Iran previously contemplated purchasing the Su-30 Flanker from Russia. There have also been on-and-off rumors since at least 2016 that Tehran wanted to co-produce such a fighter jet.
Following the fateful Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow and Tehran expanded their defense relationship to an unprecedented level.
The latter supplied the former with hundreds of single-use drones infamously used against Ukrainian cities. In exchange, Russia will provide Iran with at least two dozen Su-35s, most likely those initially built for export to Egypt in recent years in a deal Cairo is believed to have canceled.
It is not clear if Tehran will seek to import more fighters or some co-production agreement to assemble more in Iran. The rumor of the co-production of the Su-30 appeared again at the beginning of May, this time in Turkish media.
The Su-35s in Russian service have proven to be lethal adversaries for their Ukrainian opponents. A well-known Ukrainian MiG-29 pilot recently told the BBC that his “biggest enemy is the Russian Su-35 fighters.”
Although these super-maneuverable Russian jets are far more advanced than the fighters of the current Ukrainian air force, which relies on early Fulcrum and Flanker models built in the 1980s, they are still limited in many ways.
For example, the Su-35 is the only 4.5-generation aircraft that lacks an Electronically Scanned Radar (AESA). That, along with many other potentially serious shortcomings, means that the Su-35 will likely not allow Tehran to establish air superiority over the Persian Gulf, especially if it only receives 24. Instead, they will bolster the IRIAF’s aging fleet of fighters and improve Iran’s national air defense.
Whether they arrive in the next few weeks, months or even the next two years, the Su-35s will, in all probability, become the most advanced fighter jets Iran has imported in the last half century, something that, in itself, it is not negligible.