The Elusive SU-35: Unpacking the Non-Delivery to Iran

Christian Baghai
3 min readJun 4, 2024

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The ongoing saga of the SU-35 fighter jets between Russia and Iran exemplifies the murky and unpredictable nature of international defense agreements, especially those involving contentious players like Russia and Iran. Despite multiple announcements and speculations about the imminent transfer of these advanced fighter jets, the deal remains unfulfilled, leaving many to wonder about the real reasons behind the delay and the broader implications.

A Deal in Limbo

The anticipated transfer of SU-35 fighter jets from Russia to Iran has been marred by ambiguity and unfulfilled promises. While Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Mehdi Ferhi confirmed the finalization of agreements for the procurement of SU-35s and other military equipment, concrete results are yet to be seen. The specifics of the payment method for these aircraft remain unclear, with some speculations suggesting a barter-style trade involving Iran’s supply of loitering munitions to Russia.

Despite the assertions of Iranian officials and various reports, the tangible delivery of the SU-35s has not occurred. Earlier in the year, Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad-Reza Gharaei Ashtiani hinted at a possible shift in plans, suggesting Iran’s capability to produce similar advanced jets domestically. This shift indicates potential internal reassessment within Iran, possibly influenced by the complexities of international sanctions and domestic production capabilities.

Training Without Planes

In a preparatory move, Iranian pilots were reportedly trained in Russia, readying themselves for the anticipated SU-35s. However, the absence of the actual jets raises questions about the strategic intent and efficacy of such training. The Yak-130 jet trainers, which have been delivered to Iran, play a crucial role in this preparatory phase. These trainers are seen as a stepping stone for pilots to eventually operate more advanced fighters like the SU-35.

The Yak-130 Connection

The delivery of Yak-130 Mitten aircraft to Iran is a significant development, marking a step towards modernizing the Iranian Air Force. These advanced trainers, capable of light attack roles, were confirmed to be in use at Iran’s 8th Tactical Air Force Base near Isfahan. While these trainers enhance the operational readiness of Iranian pilots, they are merely a precursor to the more sophisticated SU-35s. This acquisition underscores Iran’s intent to upgrade its aerial capabilities amidst the delays and uncertainties surrounding the SU-35 deal.

The Bigger Picture

The non-delivery of the SU-35s highlights the intricate web of geopolitical and economic factors influencing international defense transactions. Geopolitical tensions, economic sanctions, and diplomatic maneuverings all play a role in the stalling of this high-stakes deal. Moreover, the international community closely watches these developments, given the potential shift in regional power dynamics that such an acquisition by Iran could trigger.

Analysts suggest that the SU-35s would significantly bolster Iran’s Air Force, which suffers from outdated equipment due to longstanding sanctions. The potential arrival of these jets could alter Israel’s strategic calculations, particularly concerning its countermeasures against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The SU-35’s advanced capabilities could pose new challenges to Israel, especially in operations over Syria and Iran.

Conclusion

The elusive SU-35 deal between Russia and Iran remains a complex and unresolved issue. Despite high anticipation and various preparatory measures, the actual delivery of these fighter jets has yet to materialize. This ongoing narrative serves as a stark reminder of the unpredictable nature of international military affairs, influenced by a myriad of geopolitical and economic factors. Observers must continue to watch this space for any future developments, as the implications of this deal extend far beyond the immediate stakeholders.

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