Iran refused Su-35 fighters from Russia, hinted at their production
Iran’s deal to purchase the long-desired Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia has unexpectedly fallen through, a fact implicitly acknowledged by Iran’s defense minister.
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When questioned about the status of the deal – initially claimed to be finalized last year – Mohammad-Reza Gharaei Ashtiani suggested a shift in strategy. His response implied Iran’s capacity to manufacture these high-performance fighters domestically.
In the past, Iranian authorities have repeatedly announced impending deals with Russia for the acquisition of Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets. Despite these claims, no tangible results have been seen.
Ashtiani, while hesitant to divulge details, stated: “We did agree on a purchase at one point, but we realized that we possess the capability to produce these [fighter jets] within our country.” However, he did not rule out the possibility of revisiting the purchase, stating that the authorities are “evaluating the situation” and could reconsider if necessary.
Interestingly, Iran announced in 2018 that it had commenced production of the Kowsar fighter, a locally designed aircraft for use in its air force. Some defense experts speculate that the Kowsar jet is a direct replica of the F-5, a model first produced in the United States during the 1960s.
Various theories have surfaced regarding the reason behind the collapsed deal with Russia. Some suggest that Israel may have swayed Russia’s decision to withhold the advanced fighters from Iran. Additionally, the U.S. government has expressed unease over the deepening military ties between Russia and Iran, viewing it as a potential threat to regional stability.
Aviation enthusiast and author, Babak Taghvaee, proposes a more convincing theory. He argues that the significant hurdle lies in Russia’s unwillingness to share key technology for the production of Su-35 parts in Iran and to impart knowledge for domestic upkeep for the next 30 years.
Taghvaee quotes Brigadier General Hamid Vahedi, Commander of the Iranian Army’s Air Force, who relays that “the General Staff of the Armed Forces has, for the time being, resisted the acquisition of Su-35SE multirole fighter jets from Russia. This is due to Russia’s refusal to transfer production technology and provide Iran with the know-how for maintaining the aircraft domestically for the coming 30 years.”
On top of that, Taghvaee mentions that Russia is only willing to sell 25 Su-35Es, initially ordered by Egypt, without offering support in the form of proper maintenance, weapons, spare parts, and simulators.
He further elaborates, “Based on the experience of selling and delivering Su-30SM fighter jets to Armenia, and the deceptive decision of the Russian government to prohibit Armenians from using them against Azerbaijan during the recent Karabakh war, it’s plausible that the unreliable Russians could repeat this action with the Iranian air force if they plan on using Su-35SEs in war.”
In September, Vahedi disclosed that purchasing Su-35s is on the Air Force’s radar, but there are no plans to acquire Sukhoi Su-30s. Both models evolved from the Soviet-origin twin-engine supermaneuverable fighter aircraft, Sukhoi Su-27. The Su-35 is a single-seat aircraft, while the Su-30 is a two-seater, multi-role fighter. Reportedly, the Army’s Air Force requires at least 64 aircraft, with 24 of these expected from Egypt’s order that remained undelivered due to US pressure on Cairo.
Iran has also shown interest in procuring other advanced military technologies from their controversial partner, such as the S-400 air-defense system, a mobile, surface-to-air missile system. Iran has provided hundreds of kamikaze drones to Russia, which have been employed to target Ukraine’s military and civilian infrastructure. Moscow denies any use of Iranian-built drones in Ukraine, even though many have been shot down and recovered there.
Iran’s air force possesses only a handful of strike aircraft: Russian jets, as well as old US models, acquired before the Iranian revolution of 1979. Instead, Iran has focused on developing a range of drones and missiles, seen as a threat by other regional countries, particularly Israel.
In a remarkable display of military prowess, the Israeli army demonstrated its advanced capabilities earlier this week. The Channel 14 news report detailed how Israel’s F-35 fighters impressively deployed bunker-busting bombs, specifically designed for the obliteration of fortified trenches. This powerful action was broadcast as a strong signal to Iran.
Adding to the significance of this event, the report further highlighted that Israel has become only the second country in the entire world, following the United States, to successfully test this advanced bombing capability. This not only marks a milestone in Israel’s military achievements but also underscores its strategic position on the global stage.
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