Russia trains Iranian pilots ahead of Su-35 transfer – report

Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet
Aleksandr Markin / Wikipedia

Russia is preparing to give Iran a fleet of Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, reports suggest. Iranian pilots trained in Russia in preparation for the transfers. 

The training took place in spring 2022, and the aircraft may be delivered to Iran in 2023, NBC News reports, referring to unnamed White house officials. 

The jets may be transferred in exchange for Iranian-made munitions, such as kamikaze drones and ballistic missiles, the officials added, according to NBC. Russia and Iran have been reportedly mulling the deal since at least the start of 2022.  

It revolved around 24 Su-35s originally ordered by Egypt in 2018. The order was dropped after the aircraft were already built. 

Bartering weapons

Following unsuccessful negotiations with Indonesia, Russia reportedly offered the jets to Iran as a part of a $3 billion arms deal that also includes two S-400 air defense systems. 

In September 2022, an official from the Iranian military nearly confirmed the purchase, saying that a transfer of 4+ generation fighter jets is “on the agenda”. 

One of the latest variants of the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker, the Su-35 is touted as one of the most capable Russian aircraft. 

It was developed in the 1990s based on the Su-27M and features thrust-vectoring engine nozzles, a passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar, new electronic warfare and targeting systems, and other improvements to the original design. 

The aircraft has been employed by Russia during its intervention in Syria, as well as during the invasion of Ukraine, where at least one Su-35 fighter has been documented as lost. 

A transfer of Iranian Shahed kamikaze drones to Russia has been widely reported, as Russia’s own stockpile of precision weapons started running out in the summer of 2022. 

At least some of the drones were bartered, reports suggest, with Russia delivering to Iran examples of Western weapons captured in Ukraine. 

Iran’s aging fleet

The fighter fleet of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) mostly consists of US-made jets from the 1960s and 70s, delivered before the Iranian revolution of 1979. 

Its mainstays are the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, the Northrop F-5 Tiger and the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, all of them maintained for decades without manufacturer support. 

While Iran managed to expand this fleet by producing limited amounts of reverse-engineered F-5s, capturing Iraqi Mirage F-1s, as well as purchasing some ex-Soviet MiG-29s and Chinese Chengdu J-7s, the country’s air force has long been lagging behind Iran’s regional rivals, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

A fleet of modern Su-35s could significantly expand IRIAF’s air defense and strike capabilities. 

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