These recent comments came on January 15, when Shahriar Heidari – a member of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee – told the Tasnim News Agency that the first examples of the multi-role fighter, which are believed to be the Su-35SE variant of the Flanker-E family, will be handed over to the IRIAF early in the Solar Hijri calendar year 1402, which begins on March 21. He added that Iran has also ordered a variety of other military equipment from Russia, including air defence systems, missile systems and helicopters; stating that most of these will also be received in the near future.
While it remains unclear as to how many Su-35s have been procured by Iran in total, early reports indicate that the IRIAF will receive 24 examples of the fourth-generation, twin-engine supermanoeuvrable fighter, with the type being primarily used to carry out air superiority missions. According to the Tasnim News Agency, some of the newly acquired Su-35s are expected to be based at the 8th Tactical Air Base (TAB) in Esfahan, which is currently home to three Grumman F-14A Tomcat units (81, 82 and 83 Tactical Fighter Squadrons) and one Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter/Chengdu FT-7N squadron (85 Tactical Fighter Squadron).
For three decades, Iran’s attempts to procure new Chinese- and Russian-made fighters to replace its ageing fleets of US-built F-14A Tomcats; McDonnell Douglas F-4D/E and RF-4E Phantom IIs; F-5A/B Freedom Fighters and Northrop F-5E/F Tiger IIs have proved unsuccessful. With the growing deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West – especially with the US and the other NATO member states following the nation’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022 – means that Russia has leaned on Iran for economic and military support to aid its war effort – such as the provision of Iranian-made Shahed-136 ‘kamikaze’ drones to the Russian military. This has provided Iran with an opportunity to procure new weapons once again from Russia (and under relatively easier terms).
As previously reported, negotiations between Iranian officials and their Russian counterparts for the acquisition of these new fighters began in October 2021, during the four-day visit of Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to Moscow. During this visit, officials from the Iranian Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) discussed the procurement of Iran’s Khayyam remote sensing satellite; the 24 Su-35SE fighters that were initially destined for Egypt; two S-400 (SA-21 Growler) surface-to-air missile (SAM) battalions and upgrade packages for 27 Sukhoi Su-24MK Fencer-D ground attack/strike aircraft and 23 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29B/UB Fulcrum-A/B fighter-interceptors.
In January 2022, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visited Moscow to sign a 20-year defence pact with Russia, however it is believed that the Su-35s were not ordered as part of this. On September 4, last year, Brig Gen Hamid Vahedi – commander-in-chief of the IRIAF – told Iran’s Borna News Agency that his force was still pursuing plans to acquire the Su-35s from Russia.
The IRIAF currently operates 303 fixed-wing combat aircraft – of which, 180 of them are US-made fighters, including 60 F-4D/E Phantom IIs. In 2006, Iran attempted to procure a fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MK Flanker fighters from Russia to replace its ageing Phantom II fleet. However, the arms embargoes placed on Iran by the United Nations (UN) Security Council in 2007 prevented any such deal from being finalised. In addition, the MODAFL failed to finalise another contract with Russia for the upgrade of 25 MiG-29s and 29 Su-24MKs to MiG-29SMT and Su-24MK2 standard, respectively.