Photo showing ‘Iranian Su-35s’ has caused a flurry on the web

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Recently, an intriguing sight graced the digital panorama of Social Network X [formerly known as Twitter] and numerous Telegram channels – a snapshot purported to exhibit a pair of the 24 Russian-made Su-35 fighter jets that Iran has ordered. The photograph, showcasing the two magnificent Su-35s on the runway, presented an unusual camouflage used by the Russian Aerospace Forces [VKS or RuAF]. 

Photo credit: Telegram

Posts sprang up across both social platforms, reading, “Russian Su-35 fighter jets in the Iranian Air Force camouflage, prepared for delivery to the Islamic Republic.” These posts affirmed the dubious narrative. However, despite the arresting similarity between the camouflage in the photograph and that of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force [IRIAF], the report is outdated, rendering the claims groundless. 

Here’s the genuine scoop: the photograph harks back to March 2021, with the two Su-35s sporting the Egyptian Air Force [EAF] camouflage. A more detailed exploration into open sources deciphers the authentic narrative: the pair of Egyptian Su-35s were in fact, preparing for cooperative night flight tests alongside Russian Su-30 fighters.

Twitter screenshot

What is happening to Iran’s F-35s?

In recent years, there’s been a lot of back and forth regarding Iran’s acquisition of 24 Su-35s, courtesy of Russia. The journey has been thrilling, much like the ups and downs on a rollercoaster at a theme park. 

Following the lifting of the UN arms embargo against Iran, Tehran didn’t waste any time. They quickly reached out to Moscow for the procurement of weapon systems, inclusive of combat planes. Around this time, Egypt had just canceled their order of Su-35s. It was somewhat challenging to determine the number manufactured by Russia at that point. Supposedly, Egypt had found disparities in their order, but whispers behind the scenes suggested that the real reason for Cairo’s withdrawal was pressure from Washington. 

Photo credit: Twitter

Just when the world thought that Moscow would soon unveil the “Iranian Su-35,” Tehran dropped a shocking revelation. Halfway through 2023, Iran’s Defense Minister, Mohammad-Reza Gharaei Ashtiani, announced that Iran had the capacity to produce the Su-35. This revelation spurred a stream of reactions, most notably the phrase “Iran is reneging on the deal” started to circulate. 

However, by November, Tehran confirmed the existence of the agreement. According to Iranian officials, the country’s military relationship with Russia was growing stronger each day. Their shopping list included the Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters, and the Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.

Russia’s ally

In February 2022, following the Russian army’s movement into Ukraine, the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine intensified, leading to a heightened focus on the strengthening relationship between Iran and Russia. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently made known their prediction of an impending agreement between the two nations’ leaders, President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, which is seemingly in the final stage of drafting. 

The Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, spent a significant five hours in conversation with Putin at the Kremlin recently. This has sparked concern amongst the United States and Israel, given the increasing political, trade, and military ties between Moscow and Tehran. 

Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, revealed to the press that the anticipated treaty aims to solidify the strategic partnership between Moscow and Tehran, covering all facets of their relationship. She expressed that the timeliness and necessity of this document are undeniable. Zakharova stated, “Since the signing of this treaty, the international context has undergone a significant transformation, leading to an unprecedented strengthening of the two countries’ relationship.” 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

In November, the Kremlin acknowledged the progress of Russia and Iran’s relationship, including in the sphere of military-technical cooperation. However, it remained silent regarding the White House’s suggestion that Iran might consider supplying Russia with ballistic missiles.

Why is the Su-35 delayed for Iran?

Currently, no official statement from Moscow addresses the confusion surrounding the Iranian order and the reasons behind the delayed delivery of the first Su-35 to Iran. 

However, by adopting a rational perspective and tapping into our understanding of the Russian communal mentality, we may be able to identify several contributing factors. The most plausible explanation might lie in the timing. If the deal was finalized towards the end of November 2023, Moscow would indeed require a reasonable period to repurpose and rebrand the Egyptian Su-35s for Iran. 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Another feasible explanation, supported by historical observations, focuses on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Considering Russia’s engagement in this warfare, the Su-35 destined for Iran [originally for Egypt] might temporarily bear the Russian flag and participate in the Ukrainian battles. We’ve previously witnessed Russia utilizing the Indian T-90 Bhishma tank in Ukraine, which was shipped from India for significant enhancement. 

In the absence of concrete information, it’s also conceivable that the Iranian Su-35s are yet to be manufactured. Another crucial aspect to consider is training. Iranian pilots will inevitably require rigorous training to maneuver the Su-35, which naturally implies further delays in the delivery schedule.

Propaganda influence

Photo credit: Twitter

There’s currently a mysterious photo circulating of a Su-35 in the dark of night, adorned in an unidentified paint scheme. Could this be a clandestine move by the Kremlin, or merely Russian bloggers chasing after an enticing headline? We can’t say for certain. Nevertheless, it’s important not to overlook the reasoning behind such an action, as it seems to revolve around two primary objectives. 

The first involves the potential deal to supply Iran with Su-35 fighter jets amid a conflict with Ukraine. If this move proves to be true, it would serve as a stern reality check. It could demonstrate Russia’s dual capabilities – the capacity to engage in war while simultaneously fulfilling the demands of their foreign clients. 

The second objective is focused on the ongoing and escalating conflict in Gaza between Israel and Palestine, which shows no signs of de-escalation. Thus, hypothetically, if Iran were to acquire several Su-35s at this stage, it could significantly undermine Israel’s aerial dominance, particularly over Syrian airspace.

Video screenshot

About Su-35

The Su-35 is powered by two Saturn AL-41F1S afterburning turbofan engines. Each engine can generate up to 86.3 kN of thrust without afterburners and up to 142 kN with them. As a result, this formidable aircraft can reach speeds of nearly Mach 2.25 [2,400 km/h] at high altitudes and cover distances of up to 3,600 km on its internal fuel alone. 

The aircraft’s frame is exceptionally sturdy, due to the use of titanium and high-strength aluminum alloys. This not only makes the aircraft lighter, but also significantly enhances its structural strength. The Su-35’s agility is further increased by features like thrust vectoring. 

Video screenshot

The Su-35’s avionics suite is impressively equipped for the modern era. It includes a digital fly-by-wire system, a phased array radar that can detect aerial threats up to 400 km away, and an infrared search and track [IRST] system. Inside the cockpit, you’ll find a wide-angle heads-up display [HUD] and two large multi-function displays.

Su-35 armament

When it comes to firepower, the Su-35 boasts a 30mm GSh-30-1 autocannon, complete with 150 rounds. But that’s not all – the aircraft is designed with 12 hardpoints, enabling it to carry a vast selection of armaments. 

These range from air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles to anti-ship missiles and bombs. But the Su-35’s versatility doesn’t end there. It’s also equipped to carry electronic countermeasure pods and additional fuel tanks – thoughtful additions that truly extend its range.

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