TEHRAN ($1=42,000.00 Iranian Rials) — It is clear that after the fall of the UN arms embargo, which the US opposed, Iran will upgrade the inventory of its air force. Initiated in 2006, the UN embargo expired two years ago in 2020. Even before the embargo expired, however, Washington pledged to oppose any attempts by Iran to acquire advanced weapons technology.
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The latest signals from Tehran are clear – the Russian Su-35 Flanker-E is in focus for a future purchase. According to various reports, 64 Flanker-E units are expected to be acquired next year. It can be said that there is a deal after it is claimed that a part of the supplied Iranian missiles and drones to Russia, used in the war with Ukraine, will be paid for precisely with a part of the fighters.
In early September, commander Brigadier General Hamid Vahedi of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force [IRIAF] confirmed that Iran was interested in the Su-35. However, apparently, the discussion continues, since before the choice of the Su-35, Iran was interested in the possible acquisition of another Russian fighter – the Su-30 Flanker-C – for at least a decade. Sources claim that two other options are being discussed “on the table” in Tehran – the purchase of Chinese J-10C or Pakistani JF-17 Block 3.
J-10C has an advantage over the Su-35
If Tehran is leaning more towards buying the Su-35, we need to analyze why the other two fighters are still on the negotiating table.
The J-10C has a very large advantage over the Russian Su-35 in almost nine out of ten indicators. First, China can produce it in an extremely short time. An example is Pakistan. Islamabad ordered 36 units and China announced that all would be delivered within 18 months. After the F-35, the J-10C is believed to be the fastest-produced fighter in the world.
The J-10C is considered a more advanced fighter than the Su-35, at least on paper. For a long time, it was the Chinese fighter that was the main candidate for the Iranian fighter fleet. It has lower operational and maintenance costs than the Su-35. For the same money, Iran can order more units of the J-10C than the Russian flagship. The J-10C is equipped with many sensors, a tall composite hull, a thrust vectoring option, network-centric capabilities, and armaments that make it stand out from competing designs.
I.e. the only advantage of the Su-35 is not the characteristics of the aircraft, but the war in Ukraine and Russia’s need for weapons. Since it is not known what will happen in the coming months in Europe, it may turn out that Russia will have to carry out a full barter – Su-35 for weapons.
JF-17 Block 3 is a budget option
At first glance, it can be said that the Pakistan-China JF-17 Block 3 is a budget option. It is inferior in speed and sensor equipment not only to its Chinese older brother J-10C but also to the Russian candidate for the Iranian Air Force Su-35.
However, the JF-17 Block 3 also has an advantage over the Russian competitor, which is important for the Iranian Air Force. Firstly avionics are the fifth generation. Something the Russians don’t have. Secondly, the armament of the combat aircraft is at an extremely high level. Third, its production can be organized faster even than the J-10C, and the operating and maintenance costs are even lower than those of the Chinese J-10C.
Some experts even believe that thanks to its avionics and good weaponry, the JF-17 can fight, and win, a battle against the F-15 and F-16. This is an excellent choice that can not only conceive but also multiply the combat capability of Iran’s current F-4 and F-5 squadrons. Realistically, the acquisition can potentially pay off, which is a severity in the modern world with any aircraft.
Will Iran only buy Su-35?
If in 2006, at the beginning of the arms embargo, Iran did not have a wide choice for the purchase of combat aircraft, today the situation is radically different. The question is already being asked – will Iran only buy one type of aircraft, or will it renew its aviation on a larger scale.
If we assume that the Su-35 is the “made decision”, then rest assured – there is room for the other two as well. Acquisition of the JF-17 Block 3 remains possible after a deal for the Su-35 to serve as a lighter counterpart. Absolutely the same can be said about the other Chinese fighter – the j-10C.
Perhaps the question is no longer whether Iran will purchase the Su-35, but which of the two [JF-17 or J-10C] will support the Russian Flanker-E in the air, as an analog of a lighter fighter? Because apparently there is a reason why the two Chinese fighter jets are still “at the decision-making table” in Tehran.
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