Russian-Iranian Deal For Su-35s Finalized, State Media Reports

An Iranian state-run broadcaster, IRIB, reports Russia and Iran have agreed on the purchase of Su-35 “Flanker-E” fighter jets for the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF).

IRIB’s report cited Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations that a contract has been finalized, but at this time there has not been corresponding confirmation from Russia. 

While the IRIB report ties the sale to the October 2020 expiration of Iran’s conventional arms embargo, an announcement has been somewhat expected, with the likelihood of a deal being disclosed growing significantly throughout 2022. IRIAF Commander Brig. Gen. Hamid Vahedi publicly stated in September that Iran was specifically interested in Russian “4++ generation fighters,” with indications pointing to the Su-35 being the type.

Senior U.S. officials revealed in December that Russia trained Iranian pilots on the Su-35 in Spring 2022, with the training and eventual transfers tied to continued support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

Not long after Iran unveiled its partially underground “Eagle 44” air base last month, what appeared to be a Flanker mockup was spotted in satellite imagery of the facility, further pointing to the type’s possible arrival. The heavily hardened base would also make sense for what would become by far Iran’s most prized combat aircraft.

The reported deal could possibly include the 24 Su-35SEs once destined for Egypt before the threat of U.S. sanctions and a teased offer of F-15s.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters in February that Iran seeks billions worth of “additional military equipment from Russia including attack helicopters, radars, and the Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft.”

Iran has helped Russia’s war effort in Ukraine in multiple ways, including by delivering kamikaze drones for Russia’s continued air attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, with a potential short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) transfer also still a possibility. The broader cooperation between the two countries could also include Russia transferring the advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system. Russia trading arms with Iran, especially existing ones, would help offset large direct costs of procuring additional weaponry for both sides.

Iranian Su-35s, even only two dozen of them, would represent a significant leap in air combat capability over the aging and oft-cannibalized American, Chinese, and Soviet-era fighters in its inventory. Given the reported deal, past training, and continued cooperation, the next step could well be the Su-35s landing at Iranian air bases.

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