Iranian drones in exchange for the Su-35: how realistic is such an agreement for the Russian Federation and who is most threatened by it

The hypothetical agreement “fighters for drones” is extremely profitable, first of all, for Iran itself, whose air force resembles a “zoo of rarities”

The American analytical center Institute for the Study of War spoke rather cautiously about the possibility of implementing an agreement between the Russian Federation and Iran regarding drones .

“Preliminary and unconfirmed reports from August 2 may indicate that Iran may have sent a batch of UAVs to the Russian Federation for field testing,” the center’s daily report said. But there is an interesting aspect – along with the drones, Iran sent pilots and technicians for training in the operation of the Su-35 multipurpose fighter.


         Su-35 - modernization of the Soviet Su-27
Su-35 – modernization of the Soviet Su-27

At the same time, the Institute for the Study of War emphasized that it could not confirm this, although it is consistent with recent reports of deepening cooperation between Iran and the Russian Federation in expanding aviation cooperation, which publicly referred only to civil aviation. Moreover, in such conditions, the exchange of UAVs for the Su-35 becomes extremely profitable for Tehran.

The fact is that the air component of Iran now resembles a “zoo of rarities”, because the country has been under sanctions since 1979. Therefore, everything in service was either in the country before this date, or was overrun by Iraqi pilots in 1991 during the escape from “Desert Storm”, and there is also a “light sprinkling” of China.


         Mirage, Phantom and Chinese MiG-21 - in one formation...
Mirage, Phantom and Chinese MiG-21 – in one formation…

Therefore, the aircraft fleet of the Iranian Air Force looks as follows (according to Military Balance 2021):

  • F-5 – more than 75 units
  • F-4 Phantom – up to 62 units
  • F-14 – up to 43 units
  • F-7M (Chinese copy of MiG-21) – 24 units
  • MiG-29 (overrun by Iraqi pilots) – 35 units
  • Mirage F-1 (overrun by Iraqi pilots) – up to 10 units
  • Su-22 (overrun by Iraqi pilots) – about 10 units
  • Su-24 (overrun by Iraqi pilots) – 29 units
  • Su-25 (overrun by Iraqi pilots) – 10 units

Regarding all these aircraft, it is extremely important to understand that these are the maximum quantitative indicators, because the Iranian Air Force suffers from a shortage of components and, at least, a certain part of these boards was cannibalized to maintain the flight readiness of the aircraft fleet. As for Soviet aircraft, these machines are most likely in better flight readiness due to the highly probable smuggling of spare parts from the Russian Federation.


         ... it pales in comparison to the F-14 and MiG-29 together in the same air force
… it pales in comparison to the F-14 and MiG-29 together in the same air force

In any case, Russian fighters are absolutely necessary for Iran, because such an aircraft fleet does not give Tehran a chance in a war with any technological enemy. Moreover, it allows the same Israel to carry out airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities from time to time.

Under these conditions, even a small number of Su-35s can significantly strengthen Iran’s air defense. Although the choice of this aircraft may seem rather strange due to its greater specialization in air combat than, for example, the Su-30, which has a greater practical functionality due to two crew members.


         Su-35 for Iran - an opportunity to qualitatively increase the combat capability of air defense and protect its nuclear facilities
For Iran, the Su-35 is an opportunity to qualitatively increase the combat capability of air defense and protect its nuclear facilities

Thus, the hypothetical agreement between the Russian Federation and Iran “fighters for drones” poses a much greater threat to Israel than the possibility of the appearance of Iranian UAVs with rather dubious characteristics in Ukraine.

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