TEHRAN, IRAN — Despite the focus on the war in Ukraine, satellites monitor every other activity. One was spotted just recently. The object of observation – Iran. Official Tehran unveiled its hidden military base weeks ago. It is underground and has one airport. But the satellite images showed something more troubling.
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Before that, though, here’s a little background. Eagle 44 is the name of Iran’s underground airbase. Sources cite various analysts and experts who suggest that North Korea has a huge hand in the construction of this Iranian base. For many years, Pyongyang has specialized in precisely this kind of construction. Historically – North Korea provided a lot of technology and know-how to Iran in the 1980s.
Let’s recall a curious fact – North Korean specialists, engineers and technicians built the underground network of tunnels and bunkers. This happened at the beginning of the new millennium, and this tunnel network connects Tehran with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. North Korea has even provided its underground technological capabilities to China. The fact is that North Korea’s defense is now once again relying on hundreds of underground military bases and airfields.
It can be said that for the last 40 years, it is Pyongyang that has been supplying Iran with military know-how. Therefore, the logic that Eagle 44 is the work of North Korean know-how and even the participation of specialists from the Kim regime finds more and more grounds for credibility.
This brings us to some satellite images that were taken very recently. A Russian Su-35 was photographed on the airfields next to Eagle 44’s entrances. Whether this is a real fighter or a mock-up in real sizes – we have no way of knowing from the photos. Both possibilities cannot be ruled out. This Su-35 was photographed near the Iranian F-4 fighter jet. The backbone of Iran’s navy currently rests on these American fighter jets sold to Iran decades ago.
Even the official presentation of the Iranian underground air base with the F-4 and its lighter analog F-5 does not raise as many questions as the presence of the Su-35 near the base. There are many conclusions, but the most logical one is that Iran is preparing for the purchase of the Russian Su-35 and has clearly defined a specific role for these fighters.
The “mock-up” of the Su-35 in Eagle 44 means that Tehran is currently testing the features of the underground base. Width and length of underground depots of the Su-35, length of the runway, as well as its width.
The presence of the F-4 next to the Su-35 is also not accidental. This aging US fighter jet is the heaviest in Iran’s inventory. However, the Su-35 is heavier than it. I.e. the Iranian military has tested the strength of the pavement itself by referring to the weight of the F-4. It makes no sense for the mockup to be the same weight as the original Su-35, so the weight of the F-4 is a good starting point.
But weight is of the utmost importance to the efficiency of the underground track. Mainly because the Su-35 takes off with a maximum payload of nearly 76 tons, while the F-4 only takes off between 28 and 30 tons. The difference of 40 tons is striking. The wingspan of the two fighters is not to be neglected either. By three meters, the Su-35 wingspan is longer than the same parameter for the F-4.
By all accounts, it looks like weight and wingspan will be the two main determining factors. However, sources in Tehran say the base is designed to accommodate Russian Su-35s. That is, if we trust these sources, the Su-35 is preparing to take off from the underground runway of the Iranian Air Force.
However, there is logic in these claims, since according to American intelligence, cited by the New York Times, Iran’s critical military infrastructure will be moved to this very base. The base is located somewhere around 160 km north of the Strait of Hormuz.
Thus, Iran is not only preparing to acquire the first Su-35 fighters but also to deploy them in a specific location. Eagle 44 will become home to a fighter that is not stealthy but has its own distinctive features. For example, three phased-array radars, one of the world’s most powerful infrared sensors, and much more advanced avionics than Iran currently has on its F-4 and F-5 fighters.
Iran is expected to receive an R-37M air-to-air missile. This missile is also Russian and according to the announced characteristics, it has twice the range of any Western missile of this class. The new underground base, new fighter jets, and new missiles mean that Iran will be preparing to protect its nuclear sites in the country. No wonder it was the Su-35 that took over the air defense of nuclear facilities, thereby significantly reducing the flights of Israeli F-16s, even F-35s.
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