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Iran's New Fighter?(Updated)

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There are reports of a pending sale of large numbers of advanced Russian fighters and tanker aircraft to Iran. The arms deal between the Rosoboronexport arms group and the Iranian government is said to provide for the sale of 250 Su-30MKM Flanker multi-role fighters and 20 Il-78MKI Midas aerial tankers. If these numbers are correct, this would be the largest Russian arms deal in about three decades, amounting to several tens of billions of dollars.

The Su-30 is now flown by the air forces of China, India, Malaysia, Russia, and Vietnam. In February 2004, U.S. Air Force pilots flying the F-15C Eagle fought against Indian pilots in an exercise with several types of fighter aircraft participating, including the Su-30. The U.S. pilots lost the exercise, named "Cope India." However, the U.S. pilots did fight against odds of 3:1 and the F-15s did not use their AN/APG-63(V)2 electronically scanned array radars nor did they simulate using the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile. Still, the effectiveness of the Indian Su-30s did surprise many American observers.

As Western military officers plot the potential strike ranges for Su-30s based in Iran, they note that the aircraft could reach targets throughout the Middle East, including Israel. In-flight refueling, of course, would permit heavier weapons loads as well as greater ranges.

The web site MilitaryPeriscope.com shows that the Iranian Air Force currently flies about 285 fighter and attack aircraft:

65 F-4D/E Phantom fighter-attack

60+ F-5E Tiger II fighter

25 F-14A Tomcat fighter

24 Shenyang F-7M attack/trainer

24 F-7 (Chinese MiG-19 Farmer type) fighter

29 MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter-attack

30 Su-24MK Fencer fighter-attack

7 Su-25 Frogfoot attack

24 Mirage F1EQ fighter

The Su-30 acquisition would probably lead to the United States selling more advanced fighter-type aircraft as well as air defense systems to its allies in the region, especially Israel, Egypt, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

UPDATE: A DT reader responds to the assertion that the SU-30s beat the F-15...

I [DELETED] hunted this winter with an air force guy attending the Naval War College and they considered it more like a "sponge exercise". They purposely handicaped the F-15 guys from Alaska. They picked up all sorts of information about that plane (Su-30), particulary, the radar. The 1, in the 3:1, occurred in the later half of the exercise in which the F-15 guys modified their tactics using older technology to defeat the Su-30. So while, they like winning all the time [They did come out the real winners: Tactics, capablities, and new buddies "the IAF"], they really only lost in press release. In fact, they were just as impressed with the Mig-21 upgrades and the application of that aircraft in combat scenarios. ... or so they told them.

(Editor)

-- Norman Polmar

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