Ministry of Defense of iran has officially confirmed the receipt of Su-35 multirole fighter jets from the russian federation, observed in the country by eyewitnesses since April. Tehran also disclosed its possession of Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft. While the Yak-130 in iranian colors was showcased in September, information about the Mi-28 remained limited.
Deputy Defense Minister Mahdi Farahi, quoted by iran's Tasnim News, said more of these russian aircraft are yet to arrive.
Although Moscow and Tehran didn't disclose specific figures or delivery timelines, it's estimated that around 24 Su-35 fighters initially manufactured for Egypt, could end up in iran.
Regarding the Mi-28, unofficial information in January 2023 suggested iran and russia had agreed on licensed production of Ka-52 and Mi-28 attack helicopters on iranian factories. The official iranian statement, however, indicates the receipt of a certain number of ready-made Mi-28s from russia. Still, it doesn't rule out that helicopter production will be localized in the future.
Strengthening aviation, particularly fighter aircraft, is crucial for iran, given its reliance on outdated American-made jets predating even the 1979 revolution, Chinese copies of MiG-21, and Iraqi fighters transferred to iran to shelter from the Coalition in 1991.
The iranian Air Force, on paper, consists of the following aircraft:
- F-5: more than 75 units
- F-4 Phantom: up to 68 units
- F-14: up to 43 units
- F-7M (Chinese MiG-21 copy): 24 units
- MiG-29 (delivered by Iraqi pilots): 35 units
- Mirage F-1 (delivered by Iraqi pilots): up to 10 units
- Su-22 (delivered by Iraqi pilots): about 10 units
- Su-24 (delivered by Iraqi pilots): 29 units
- Su-25 (delivered by Iraqi pilots): 10 units
The actual operational readiness of these aged aircraft remains questionable, though.
As for the helicopter fleet, iran has remnants of AH-1J Cobra (up to 50 units) and an unspecified number of light single-seat HESA Shahed 285s, based on the U.S.-Canadian Bell 206.
In other words, the provision of russian Mi-28 fills the critical gap in attack helicopters with long-range guided weapons, and thus is no less important than the Su-35.
Additionally, the transfer of the Yak-130 offers the potential for converting this trainer jet into a light fighter/attack aircraft, a logical step for iran.
Moreover, further cooperation with russia might give Tehran all it needs to repair and modernize its MiG-29, Su-24, and Su-25, significantly bolstering its air force and shifting the balance of forces in the region. The presence of the Su-35, in particular, complicates any attempts to carry out airstrikes on iran's nuclear facilities.
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