Why Iran’s Planned Purchase of Su-35 Fighter Jets From Russia Matters: Iranian Air Force chief Hamid Vahedi revealed over the weekend that Tehran is considering purchasing an unknown number of Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia. The news follows reports that hundreds of Iranian-manufactured drones sent to Russia to assist its military in Ukraine proved faulty and unreliable and comes as Russia seeks to strengthen its ties with any country that isn’t opposed to Putin’s war.
Speaking to the Borna news agency on Sunday, Vahedi said that purchasing these fighter jets from Russia is “being considered by the Air Force.”
The Iranian official clarified that the country’s Air Force was not looking for Su-30s, but specifically the “fourth generation of Su-35 fighter jets.” That means Iran is looking for single-seat fighter jets, rather than the two-seat variant.
If the plan comes to fruition, it will be the first time that Iran has purchased fighter jets from abroad since the 1990s, when it purchased an Su-24M strike fighter unit and two MiG-29 squadrons from the Soviet Union.
Russia’s Top Fighter Jet
The Su-35 was originally developed during the Soviet Union and has seen multiple variants and generations since 1991. The latest Su-35 generation has been modernized to improve its combat effectiveness against ground, aerial, and sea-surface targets.
Russia’s state-owned aerospace consortium, the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), describes the Su-35 as a craft “designed for intercepting and destroying all classes of aerial targets in ranged and close air engagements, fighting for air superiority as well as hitting ground and sea-surface targets including troops and ground infrastructure covered by anti-aircraft weapons and located at a considerable distance from its base airfield.”
The plane offers improved target-tracking stability, can be used to perform covert attacks on radio-emitting aerial targets at both long and medium ranges, and has a single integrated information management system that provides support to the pilot.
That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s the most capable in the world. The latest Su-35 is the only major fourth-generation aircraft that isn’t fitted with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which sends radio waves of different frequencies in multiple directions without physically moving antennas. It also isn’t fitted with Sensor Fusion technology, as seen in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets.
Expert Tells 19FortyFive Su-35 ‘It Could Be a Real Game Changer’
Nonetheless, the acquisition of Su-35s would help Iran modernize its military and would be a significant improvement over its current stock of F-14s from the 1970s. As of 2019, the Iranian military was still operating roughly two dozen F-14 Tomcats out of a total of 79 that were purchased in the 1970s before the Islamic Revolution.
“The Su-35 could be a real game-changer for Iran,” explained a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, speaking to 19FortyFive on background. “The Su-35 is not perfect and not stealthy, but it would be decades ahead of old F-14 and other obsolete platforms Iran has now.”
With President Joe Biden’s efforts to renegotiate the Iran Nuclear Deal failing and with Iran firmly choosing sides over the Ukraine conflict, the acquisition of more modern aircraft is likely to pose a challenge to the United States in the coming years. A better-equipped Iranian military and deeper ties between the Kremlin and Iran’s hardline Islamist government could make nuclear negotiations substantially harder.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.