Russia, Iran to Co-Produce Su-30 Fighters

Iran’s Defense Minister, General Hossein Dehqhan, announced that Iran would sign a contract with Russia to co-produce Su-30 multirole air superiority fighter. Since the nuclear deal was signed, thus lifting sanctions on Tehran,  Iran is going forward with its intentions to produce local Su-30 with the help of Russia.

Iran would become the second country after India to produce a variant of the Su-30 fighter aircraft locally. That said, it is still too early to confirm what will Tehran’s role will be in the aircraft production process.

Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKI
Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKI, co-produced with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in India.

The first rumors of a possible Iranian-Russian Su-30 deal emerged during the MAKS airshow in 2015. That said, it is still unclear what variant of the Su-30 would be produced and how many aircraft would Iran acquire.

The logical choice for Iran would be the Su-30SM, Russia’s most advanced Su-30 variant. The Su-30SM is already in service with the Algerian Air Force, Indian Air Force, Indonesian Air Force, People’s Liberation Army Air Force, Royal Malaysian Air Force, Ugandan Air Force, Venezuelan Air Force and Vietnam People’s Air Force.

According to airforce-technology.com: “the multi-role Su-30SM can be deployed in counter-air strikes, counter-land and counter-sea missions. It can conduct electronic counter-countermeasures and early warning tasks. The aircraft also acts as a command-and-control platform within a fleet of combat aircraft performing joint missions.”

Due to the lifted sanctions, Iran is sitting on a pile of cash, capable of buying the Su-30SM and becoming a major air force in the region. Buying state-of-the-art fighter aircraft, along a strong S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems will challenge the Saudi Arabia’s air dominance in the region.

Russian Su-30SM
Russian Su-30SM. (C) Sergey Ablogin

A high-ranking official in the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation has confirmed today (Feb 17, 2016) that Iran will negociate with Russia for the production of the Sukhoi Su-30SM.

“Iran has actually expressed its interest in the purchase of an order of Su-30SM fighters, but so far the parties are only discussing the issue in negotiations. The contract will be signed this year,” the official told RIA Novosti.

Iran in urgent need of better fighters

Currently equipped with old F-4 Phantom II, Mig-29 and F-14s, Iran is desperately in need of an air force modernization. Russia, with its Sukhoi 4+ generation Su-30SM, could give a signifiant boost to the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.

Compared to the Royal Saudi Air Force, equipped with F-15E Strike Eagle and Eurofighter Typhoons, Iran stands no chance of being the leading air force in the region. Let’s not forget Israel here as well, equipped with F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft.

Iran’s influence in the region

Geopolitcally speaking, a stronger air force would boost Iran’s influence in the region, countering Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, especially in Iraq where a Shia government is ruling the country. Although most of the Middle East countries have a larger amount of Sunni Muslim, Iraq and Lebanon have a fair amount of Shia Muslims, meaning a stronger Iran would clearly influence diplomatic relations with them.

I believe Iran will adopt a more aggressive stance with a stronger air force, but will most likely fail to surpass the Saudi, especially now with the Syria situation. Iran’s oil production will also have a role to play in the region and Iran desperately need an air force, along with S-300s, capable of protecting its production.

France, Spain and Russia agreed to import oil from Iran, boosting its total production to 3.1 million barrels per day, surpassing the United Arab Emirates by about 300.000 barrels per day. Saudi Arabia, however, remains clearly ahead with an average of 10.14 million barrels per day.

That said, Iran stands no chance if they’d deliberately launch an attack on aforementioned countries. There is no indication of this happening in the near future, however.

Iran is also considering importing Russian-designed T-90 tank production technology withing their own borders. General Dehqhan also rejected the idea of acquiring Chengdu J-10 lightweight multirole fighter aircraft from China.

Jonathan Wade, CD

Jonathan Wade is the director of the ‘The Sentinel Analytical Group’ and a decorated veteran of the Canadian Forces. Specialized in tactical, strategic, intelligence and geopolitics analysis, Jonathan has a fondness for technical details. His military experience brought him valuable insight on the realities of conflicts and war. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jonathan brings in in-theatre experience. Jonathan writes about Russia, Canada and Arctic.