Iran is Going on a Shopping Spree in Moscow

There have been reports that Iran’s Defense Minister will soon be going to Moscow to negotiate the purchase of T-90 tanks battle tanks and Su-30 fighter jets. This has deal in the making for a while now, but the presence of Defense Minister Dehghan in Russia suggests the deal is getting close to completion.

Flushed with cash and political cover from the successful nuclear negotiations, the Iranians have been looking to upgrade their military hardware. Having grown somewhat close to Russia over the course of the Syrian Civil War and in need of new equipment, Tehran has turned to Moscow . They have already received some components of the advanced S-300 air defense system and are now looking to close a deal that would provide them with Su-30 fighter jets and T-90 main battle tanks.

The Su-30

Currently, Iran’s air force is composed of a mishmash of older warplanes with most being third generation fighters. Iran’s most capable fighters are the F-14 Tomcats sold to Iran in the 1970s before the revolution. The most numerous are the Vietnam era F-4 Phantoms which are complemented by an assortment of Chinese MiG-21 copies and American F-5 light fighters, among others .

IRIAF_MiG-21_landing
An Iranian J-7 interceptor. A Chinese build copy of the MiG-21 “fishbed” that was first flown in 1959.

While Iran als ocurrently fields around fourth generation 25 MiG-29s the limits of this fighter are well known. Although agile, it lacks advanced radar and flight control systems. As a result of an old Soviet doctrine that emphasized ground control over pilot autonomy, it’s pilot’s concentration is heavily split between tracking instrumentation and situational awareness. This makes building a picture of the battle space much harder. The range of the MiG-29 is also lacking. It was designed to defend air space close to it’s home country’s borders. The low fuel capacity is made worse by it’s two large engines which make powerful, but limit the range to the point where it can’t really be used for strike missions or interdiction.

The Su-30 on the other hand could really change the game. The Sukhoi is a multirole, fourth generation fighter derived from the Su-27 Flanker. The Su-30 would allow Iran not only to phase out it’s worn out older planes, but to upgrade it’s capabilities as well. The Su-30’s 3000 km maximum range would allow it to strike almost anywhere in the Middle East and Central Asia, even weighed down with bombs.

Su30mkm_flying_at_lima
An example of an Su-30.

In addition to being a formidable strike aircraft the Sukhoi possesses significant air defense capabilities. Being roughly equivalent to the American F-15 , It’s advanced avionics and extreme maneuverability allow for both close range dogfighting and beyond -visual-range engagements. Along with the S-300 that Russia is currently transferring to Iran, the Sukhoi could allow the Ayatollah to lock down Iran’s air space completely and turn what was just a short time ago a limited medium to high altitude air defense capability into a more modern integrated air defense system.

The T-90

Iran’s ground forces are also fairly dated. The bulk of Iran’s tank forces are provided by older 50s and 60s era British, American and Chinese tanks. Many of their indigenous tanks are based on American chassis acquired before the revolution and equipped with 70s soviet era cannons. Weapons like the Zulfiqar and T-72S, while more modern than the T-55 variants, are still obsolete by regional standards. Israel fields the Merkava and the Saudi, Iraqi, Egyptian armies use export versions of the M1 Abrams. Even the Jordanians have a sizable force of 400 British Challenger 1 tanks.

The T-90 is a much more modern tank, but it is still based on the same basic T-72 design. It’s frontal armor, combined with a clam shell made of ERA is strong enough to take a hit from a TOW missile. Some variant’s include active defense systems capable of combating IR and radar guided missiles. The cannon, however is still the older Soviet 2A46M. Almost all of Iran’s regional adversaries uses tanks equipped with either the 120 mm Rheinmetall smoothbore or similar weapons. These are the same cannons that were mounted on the Abrams tanks that massacred Iraq’s tanks in the first Persian Gulf War.

This deal would put Iran on a roughly level playing field with the rest of the Middle East in terms of military hardware. They would finally be able to phase out some of the pre-revolutionary hardware that they have held onto for almost 40 years.

 


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