Iran says deal reached to buy Russian fighter jets, as defense cooperation deepens


TEHRAN — Iran has finalized a deal to buy Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia, state media reported, as defense cooperation between the two countries deepens.

The air force of sanctions-hit Iran has an aging fleet of aircraft and has struggled to acquire spare parts to keep its warplanes in the air.

In a statement to the United Nations, Tehran said it began approaching “countries to buy fighter jets” to replenish its fleet in the wake of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

“Russia announced it was ready to sell them” after the expiry in October 2020 of restrictions on Iran purchasing conventional weapons under UN Resolution 2231, said the statement carried late Friday by the official IRNA news agency.

“The Sukhoi 35 fighter jets were technically acceptable for Iran,” it added.

An analysis of images from a newly revealed underground air force base in Iran named “Eagle 44” revealed that the site is likely being prepared to host the advanced Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, The New York Times reported last month.

A poster inside a newly unveiled Iranian underground Air Force base. The central silhouette appears to be that of the Sukhoi Su-35 jet, which Iran does not yet have as of February 2023. (Iranian Army via Fars)

Iran last month unveiled what it said was its first underground air force base, with the head of the Islamic Republic’s military saying the site would be among those used to launch a response to any potential strikes by Israel or others.

Iran has in recent years been moving much of its critical military infrastructure underground. Israel is suspected of launching a series of attacks on Iran, including an assault on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges.

Tehran has forged strong ties with Moscow in various sectors including the military in the past year.

Kyiv has accused Tehran of supplying Moscow with Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drones used in attacks on civilian targets since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year — an allegation the Islamic Republic denies.

The United States has expressed alarm over the growing military cooperation between Iran and Russia, with Pentagon spokesman John Kirby warning in December that Russia looked likely to sell Iran its fighter jets.

Kirby maintained that Iranian pilots had reportedly been learning to fly the Sukhoi warplanes in Russia, and that Tehran may receive the aircraft within the next year, which would “significantly strengthen Iran’s air force relative to its regional neighbors.”

A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low-altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook in international waters in the Baltic Sea, April 12, 2016. (US Navy)

Iran currently has mostly Russian MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets that date back to the Soviet era, as well as some Chinese aircraft, including the F-7.

Some American F-4 and F-5 fighter jets dating back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution are also part of its fleet.

The US began reimposing sanctions on Iran in 2019, a year after its unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal under then-US president Donald Trump.

The 2015 deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, gave Iran relief from international sanctions in return for curbs on its suspect nuclear program.

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