Largely isolated from the international community, Tehran and Moscow have turned to each other to fulfill certain defense needs. Iran has been sanctioned by many Western powers for its nuclear pursuits, while Russia has been boycotted for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. In order to work around these curtailments, the rogue allies have ramped up mutual military-related exchanges. The Iranian-Russian partnership has recently made headlines after Tehran provided hundreds of lethal drones to aid Moscow’s offensive war efforts in Ukraine. As the conflict continues, more Iranian weapons will likely make their way to the battlefield.
However, the Iranian regime is not providing its advanced munitions for free. Moscow will undoubtedly reimburse Tehran’s contributions in the upcoming months or years. The weapons Iran is eying most include S-400 missile systems, the Su-35 fighter jet, cyberwarfare tech, the Poseidon UUV and the Mil Mi-28 attack helicopter
The Su-35 platform would enhance Iran’s abysmal aerial arsenal
Last month, the New York Times reported that an underground air force base in Iran may be housing a shipment of Russia’s Su-35 fighter airframes. Industry experts have long predicted that Tehran would eventually procure Moscow’s premier fighter platform as the two allies continued to improve relations over the years. Tehran currently possesses mostly Russian MiG and Soviet-era fighters, as well as some aging American F-4, F-5 and F-14 fighters.
While Iran has tried to maintain and improve the fighters it first acquired pre-Revolution days over four decades ago, its aerial capabilities are seriously lagging behind the rest of the world.
Designated by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as Flanker-E, the Su-35 is a twin-engine, supermaneuverable platform that initially derived from the Soviet-era Su-27 airframe. According to the Kremlin, the Flanker-E is the pinnacle of a solid fighter, incorporating supersonic speed, long-range, reduced radar signatures and increased payload capabilities. Notably, the Su-35 can travel at roughly 1,500 miles per hour- even faster than the U.S. F-35 Lightning II fighter.
The S-400 missile system could help Iran thwart Israeli strikes
In addition to the Su-35 platform, Iran has requested a shipment of S-400 missile systems from Russia. The mobile, surface-to-air missile system is capable of engaging airframes, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), cruise missiles and has some terminal ballistic missile defense abilities. As explained by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “The S-400 primarily uses the 48N6 missile series.
These missiles allow it to hit aerial targets at ranges up to 250 km and are capable of intercepting ballistic missiles across a 60 km radius, using in both cases a 143 kg high explosive fragmentation warhead.” Moscow has maintained that its homegrown missile system is capable of taking out fifth-generation fighters and B-2 bombers.
The addition of S-400 missile systems in Iran’s defense space would pose an immediate threat to Israeli platforms operating in the region. Additionally, Iran’s multiple proxy groups that function throughout the region would certainly benefit from such a system.
Iran could use cyber-warfare tech for cross-border operations and domestic spying
Since the onset of the nation-wide protests that have swept Iran, the government has detained over 20,000 demonstrators and killed more than 500, according to the Human Rights Activists group in the country. In addition to the brutal physical crackdown the regime has inflicted on protestors, the government also used the internet to stymie the impact of the demonstrations. Obtaining high-end cyber capabilities is paramount for an authoritarian regime to maintain power and control over its citizens.
For this reason, Tehran began procuring Russian-made internet-censorship software, eavesdropping devices, lie detectors and other cyber systems. In addition to using cyber capabilities against its own citizens, Tehran has ramped up hacking efforts abroad.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Israel accused Iran of trying to hack its water system. Iran has also carried out supply-chain and infrastructure attacks targeting the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Procuring additional sophisticated cyber-warfare technology would probably be on the top of Iran’s weapons-wish list from Russia.
Russia’s Poseidon Underwater Unmanned Vehicle (UUAV) would be a game-changing weapon for Iran
Moscow’s intercontinental, nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed autonomous torpedo is perhaps the most advanced weapon in Russia’s arsenal. Designed to be carried and launched by submarines during the Cold War, the UUV is meant to engage strategic enemy targets, including aircraft carrier groups and naval bases. The weapon reportedly can travel at around 70 knots, way faster than other existing torpedoes. Perhaps the Poseidon’s greatest asset is that it has unlimited range.
The UUV is powered by a nuclear reactor and possesses significant flexibility regarding launch and target locations.
For years, Iran has carried out blatant attacks targeting international vessels in the Gulf of Oman. The Strait of Hormuz, positioned in the Persian Gulf, is a strategic chokepoint that sees large quantities of global oil supplies travel through it. Iran often disrupts activity in this area in order to demonstrate its ability to interrupt the flow of oil. Acquiring the formidable Poseidon would greatly enhance Iran’s lackluster Naval fleet of vessels.
Iran’s regionwide proxies would love the Mil Mi-28NM Super hunter Attack Helicopter
Designated by NATO as Havoc, Russia’s Mil Mi-28 all-weather, two-seat anti-armor attack chopper is a deadly platform. The airframe’s newfangled radar enables pilots to get a 360-degree view along with the radar image of the ground.
The chopper has been deployed by Russia in Ukraine, as it was designed for taking out enemy armored vehicles. Ordnance-wise, the chopper can pack a punch. The Mi-28 can carry over 5,000 pounds of ordnance consisting of 9M120 Ataka anti-tank guided missiles, a 30mm cannon and rocket pods. The “Super Hunter” variant of the chopper can also sport air-to-air missiles like the R-74, which can “target enemy aircraft, UAVs, cruise missiles and even fifth-generation aircraft,” according to OEW Online.
The majority of Tehran’s current attack helicopter fleet comprises aging and less advanced platforms like the AH-1J International version of the Cobra that Iran first procured over four decades ago. The incorporation of a sophisticated chopper platform in Iran’s arsenal could also amplify proxy barrages in the region.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.