Iran’s alleged plan to acquire Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet platform is the latest sign of strengthening ties between the two authoritarian states.

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that an underground Iranian air force base could house a shipment of major Russian fighter jets. If it occurs, the agreement is significant on many levels.

Su-35 contracts with Indonesia, Algeria, and Egypt fell through in recent years under pressure from US economic sanctions, leaving China the only military other than Russia to possess the fourth-generation platform. Iran’s purchase of the Su-35 would bring the rogue state even closer to America’s main adversaries.

Furthermore, the Kremlin is likely handing over its fighters as a repayment to the Iranian regime for supplying Russian forces with most of the lethal drones they use in Ukraine. Moscow and Tehran are beginning to support each other more amid their shared international isolation.

Russia's Su-35: A Boon for the Iranian Air Force?

What is the Su-35?

The Su-35 is a super-maneuverable, twin-engined airframe that was envisaged in the early 1980s. NATO designates it as “Flanker-E.” Like other Russian fighters, the Su-35 is a modified Flanker. The original Su-27.

Moscow often boasts that the updated variant combines the best characteristics of a modern fighter – supersonic speed, super-maneuverability, and long-range – with strong airframe characteristics like greater payload, the ability to carry more armaments, and decreased radar signals.

Speed is one of the most obvious characteristics of the Su-35. Like the F-22 Raptor and quicker than the F-35 Lightning II, the fighter can fly roughly 1,500 miles per hour (Mach 2.5).

The aircraft also has a flight range of more than 3,000 kilometers and a service ceiling of about 18,000 meters.

Although the Su-35 has some admirable qualities, it is seriously lacking. The best Russian fighter is the only one of its generation without electronically scanned radar or sensor fusion. All US-made fourth-generation fighters have these more jam-resistant frequency hopping systems. Thus, the Su-35 is the weakest avionic of its counterparts.

Improvement of the Iranian air arsenal

Given that the current state of the Iranian air force is dismal at best, the arrival of fourth-generation fighter jets would be a boon to the regime. 

The old F-14 Tomcat and F-4 Phantom II are some of the best platforms used by Iranian pilots. While these fighters were once the best, they wouldn’t do much good against the advanced fourth and fifth-generation fighters that roam the skies today.

In addition to receiving the Su-35, Iran hopes Russia will provide it with S-400 missile systems. These systems could hinder Israel’s advance. These systems could make it more difficult for Israel or the United States to attack Iranian nuclear facilities since the planes could be shot down after launching an attack.

In recent years, Moscow and Tehran have relied on one another for their military demands and have begun building an economic relationship. The announcement of Iran’s intention to acquire Su-35 warplanes is expected to be followed by subsequent economic agreements between the two rogue governments.