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Would Russia Trade Su-35 Fighters for Drones from Iran?

Would Russia actually trade its powerful Su-35 fighter for drones from Iran?

S-300 Russia Ukraine
Russian Su-35 fighters. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

It looks like two state sponsors of terror want to trade aerial platforms. Rogue states Iran and Russia are bartering fighters for drones. Russia wants Iran’s unmanned vehicles and Iran covets Russian fighter planes such as the Su-35 Flanker. This month Tehran sent Moscow the first group of drones for evaluation and testing. Meanwhile, Iranian pilots are being trained in Russia on the Su-35. Could this relationship serve as a blueprint for further assistance from China to create a formidable triumvirate?

Su-35

Image: Creative Commons.

Tehran and Moscow Grow Closer

The Iran-Russia trade, revealed on Twitter on August 2, is likely being executed for the two countries to get around sanctions and to build a military bloc against the West. Washington, D.C. think tank Institute for the Study of War explained more. “This is consistent with recent reports that Tehran and Moscow are pursuing greater aviation cooperation in order to circumvent international sanctions on Russia and Iran and support Russian operations in Ukraine.”

The Trade Will Have Mutual Benefits

Russia has its eyes on the Shahed-129 and Shahed-191 combat drones. Russia’s military has had difficulty establishing air superiority over Ukraine and hopes these armed, unmanned systems can turn the tide. Meanwhile, Iran is hurting for new fighters and the Su-35 fits the bill. This trade hatched from an earlier 20-year $10 billion military agreement forged in January 2022 between the two countries.

Iran’s Military Strength Is Drone Warfare

Iran has excelled in drone combat dating back to the early 2010s when it electronically jammed an American RQ-170 Sentinel stealth unmanned system. The RQ-170 was brought down intact by the Iranians. This craft helped inspire the Saegheh combat drone and the Shahed 171 attack drone – both flying wing designs. The Saegheh once flew deep into Israeli air space in 2018 without being shot down by Patriot anti-aircraft batteries. It finally had to be destroyed by gunfire at close range as it approached Israeli defenses.

This Bartering Will Help Russian Efforts in Ukraine

Military Watch Magazine believes that Iranian experience with drones could pose a challenge for Ukrainian air defenses. “Iran’s newer stealth drones most notably the Shahed 181 and Shahed 191 strike platforms could prove particularly problematic for Ukrainian defenses, which are considerably less dense or sophisticated than those over Israel.”

Just What the Doctor Ordered for Iran

Iran wants new jet fighters as it is depending on Cold War-era designs such as the American F-14 Tomcat and the Soviet Su-22 Fitter. An Su-22 just crashed in Iran this month. An F-14 went down due to an accident in June.

Tactical and Strategic Underpinnings

There are two dimensions here for analysis. The first is the tactical aspect of the trade – if it indeed happens. The barter “scratches both itches” and will help each side with capabilities that are needed badly. Iran’s air force is woefully under-equipped while Russia’s drones have not faired well during the war in Ukraine.

The second aspect of the deal is strategic as it pertains to broader international security goals for both countries. Russia and Iran are growing closer in their relationship. This is bad news for NATO and unwelcome tidings for Israel and Saudi Arabia, plus other Gulf allies.

Russia likely wants to enhance its military hardware diplomacy with China too. China has huge security resources that could help Russia. Beijing is already buying Russian oil – providing a cash flow that helps serve to finance the war effort.

Su-35

Image: Creative Commons.

Maria Shagina, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, told news outlet RFE/RL, “We’ve heard on multiple occasions that Russia and China have established a ‘no-limits’ partnership, and recently [on June 15], Xi reiterated support for mutual cooperation with Russia.”

Axis of Evil 2.0

This is a new axis of anti-Western countries that are uniting during the war in Ukraine. There may be more military trades and diplomacy among the three American adversaries to build a stronger alliance. The United States and NATO should watch these developments closely as the three countries in question grow closer together.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Gary Jacobs

    August 19, 2022 at 12:26 pm

    HaHa, if Iran wants to waste their money on Russian planes, pppppplease, by all means do so. Israel is something like 100-0 in air-to-air combat against Muslim Air forces since 1982. And now the IAF has Stealth f35s. I’d still put the older F15s ahead of any Iranian/Russian planes simply due to pilot experience and training in the IAF.

    As for the drones, that is a real issue… I’m interested to see how Israel’s coming soon Scorpius system based on AESA radar used as missile/drone defense works against Iranian drones. Iron Beam laser system will coming online soon as well.

    In Ukraine, they have quite a bit of anti-drone tech as well, clearly not as much as Israel. But if it comes down to guns, The Germans did give them a number Gepard AA tank units which carries a pair of 35 mm Oerlikon cannons and two radar dishes for target acquisition. It would be nice to hear Biden announce a major ramp up of support to Ukraine in response Iranian drones sent to Russia. After all, It was Obama and Biden that decided not to destroy the stealth drone Iran brought down, thereby allowing it to be captured. It would be a tragic irony if that mistake came back to undermine the effort in Ukraine now.

  2. GhostTomahawk

    August 19, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    The real question is would Iran trade drones for SU-35??

  3. Error402

    August 19, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    Heh, heh, Mr Eastwood.

    Russia SHOULD trade RS-24 rocket technology for the drones from Iran.

    Iran needs to produce mobile RS-24 rockets that can move into mountain redoubts and move out only during launch.

    RS-24 tech should also be given to Pyongyang as the rocket has better than a fightin’ chance to escape or avoid or survive US bmd systems in the western pacific since it’s designed to fly flatter trajectories than pyongyang’s current rockets.

  4. Gary Jacobs

    August 19, 2022 at 4:35 pm

    to Error402 – there is an error in your optimism on that system for Iran. 1st of all, the F35s DAS system comes complete with missile launch detection capabilities which can instantly detect and calculate where a launch comes from, and then feed that info into the larger missile defense architecture. And besides being able to respond on its own, the F35 can be used as a targeting node for other missiles. The US has done extensive testing with the SM6 Missile being fired by the Navy, and then target control handed off to an F35 that is much closer to what needs to be hit. All tests were successful.

    As well, Israel’s missile defense organization has recently delivered the Tal Shamaim aerostat that will boost the Israeli Air Force’s missile defense capabilities for detecting low trajectory/altitude missiles and drones. And that’s besides Israel operating its own network of Satellites, AWACS, radars, and squads of F35s.

    Bottom line: Israel continues to demonstrate its ability to defeat all manner of Russian and Iranian military equipment and terrorist tactics…and to share that knowledge with the US. Dont expect any of that to change anytime soon.

  5. Aftab Hussain

    August 21, 2022 at 4:20 am

    What about America and Israel’s nexus which is a constant source of instability in the Gulf region? Actually these two states are ” axes of evil” around the world. What happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, to name a few, was the result of aggression of U.S. Million of Muslims lost their lives.

  6. Gary Jacobs

    August 21, 2022 at 10:59 am

    Aftab Hussein – The US made plenty of mistakes, but the core issue is Islamic Extremism. Every time I hear someone like you, or a leftist western apologist for Islamists blame the US for all that is wrong in the mideast I call BS instantly. Either you are uneducated about the history of Islamic Imperialist/colonial expansion, or you just cherry pick your own grievances to manipulate others who are uneducated.
    Muslims have been trying to conquer the EU since the 7th Century. Only stopped from overrunning EU from the south at the Battle of Tours, and then later from the East at the Sieges of Vienna Austria. Greece did not get its independence from Ottoman Muslim occupation until 1821, and it fought a bloody war for it. Ottomans occupied parts of Eastern Europe for Hundreds of years. Muslims occupied Spain and Portugal for 800 years.

    As well, the reason the US Navy exists in the 1st place is because the Barbary Coast Muslims were kidnapping US merchant sailors in the MedSea and holding them for ransom or making them slaves. Why? Because Islam allows infidels to be treated this way.

    You can pretend that the US having a presence in the Mideast is the problem, but that does no one any good. The problems coming from the Mideast long predate the very existence of the United States. And if there was no such thing as the USA you would still invent some excuse to blame everyone but yourself for all the problems Muslims face, and then try to invade as Muslim extremists have repeatedly for centuries.

    Bottom Line: Islam Needs a reformation period and enlightenment. The same way Christianity did. The sooner you accept that and try to evolve into better humans…the sooner we can all work towards a better future together.

  7. VIN

    August 21, 2022 at 12:25 pm

    This article has a lot of bias built into it. Not surprised at all.

  8. Shawarma

    August 24, 2022 at 6:36 am

    Crimea is Russian as Sáhara is Maroccan. As Golan’s Heights are israeli.

  9. aaron schmitz

    August 25, 2022 at 6:24 am

    This is only the beginning. China, Russia, Iran, Syria, India, N. Korea, etc are going to create their own “NATO”, where an attack on one is an attack on all.
    We have to act fast if we want to eliminate Iran’s Nuke program or at least set it back 20 years.

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