Iran's Sukhoi Su-24s

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

Throughout the 70s and 80s of the last century (obviously including the years of the Iran-Iraq War), the backbone of the bombing component of the Iranian Air Force (first IIAF and later IRIAF) was made up of the F-4 Phantom II of American origin. At the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the IRIAF was reduced to a shadow of its former self lost as much as 52% of its first line of US-made fighter-bombers and with the survivors in a state of extreme wear and tear and very low operational levels.

As already mentioned in the previous analyses relating to the F-7 of Chinese origin and the Mig-29 of Soviet/Russian origin, in order to reconstitute the offensive potential of the IRIAF, its field commander at the time, Brigadier General Mansour Sattari, decided to approve a plan which, alongside the restoration of American aircraft capabilities, it also envisaged massive purchases of aircraft of Soviet and Chinese origin.

In 1989 the Iran of the ayatollahs reached an agreement with the Soviet Union which, alongside the aforementioned Mig-29s, also provided for the sale of as many as 100 Sukhoi Su-24s of the Su-24MK version. Also on this occasion, the Iranian initiative originated from what was done in the same period by the enemy IrAF (Iraqi Air Force) the Air Force of Saddam Hussain's Iraq and by the friends SyAAF and LARAF (Syrian Arab Air Force and Lybian ARab Air Force) respectively the Air Force of Hafez al-Assad's Syria and Muammar Gaddafi's Libya. Among all these Arab air forces, the Iraqi one was in a particularly delicate situation since, upon careful study of the air campaigns conducted against the Iranian enemy during the years 1986 and 1987, it appeared clear that the IrAF did not possess a model of fighter-bomber powerful enough to penetrate deep into Iranian territory and effectively attack selected strategic targets which were effectively defended by electronic warfare (EW) systems and surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries. For this reason, already in 1986, the IrAF (and absolutely simultaneously also the SyAAF) issued a requirement to the Soviet Union for this type of aircraft.

At that time, the workhorse of the Soviet V-VS Tactical Aviation (FA) was the Sukhoi Su-24, adopted both in its basic Su-24 and in its advanced Su-24M version.

Entered service in 1974, the mighty Sukhoi attack twin-engine equipped numerous front-line Soviet departments stationed above all in the Warsaw Pact countries and, starting from 1984, it was also being intensively used in the conflict in Afghanistan where it had been appreciated both robustness and the ability to embark a considerable war load.

In April 1986, 4 Soviet Su-24M equipped with in-flight refueling probes and escorted by two Il-76 engaged in the transfer of "reserve" crews, as well as several senior Soviet officers and display weapons, were flown all the way to Syria, where they had the opportunity to be tested and evaluated by SyAAF for about a week. Soon after they were transferred to neighboring Iraq in the western base complex known as H-3 where the IrAF also had the opportunity to evaluate them for a comparable time, before they returned again to the USSR again via Syria. Curiously, Damascus lodged formal diplomatic protests against Moscow throughout the Su-24M's stay in Iraq, but it seems that this move was more aimed at demonstrating solidarity with Iran than for any other reason. In any case, and contrary to what was claimed by most sources, this was the only occasion in which the Su-24M peeped into the Middle East area at the time of the Iran-Iraq War. If it is true that the Sukhoi twin-engine aircraft was eventually purchased by Iraq, but also by neighboring Syria, Libya and even Algeria, the deliveries of the aircraft only took place after the end of hostilities. The arrival of the Su-24 in the hands of their Iraqi enemies pushed the Iranians (exactly as had happened for the Mig-29) to purchase the same type of armaments.

As mentioned above, the version of the Su-24 chosen by Iran was the Su-24MK, also known as "Izdelie 44M". The differences between the Su-24M version expressly developed for the USSR Armed Forces and the Su-24MK version specifically designed for export essentially concerned avionics, in particular IFF equipment and armament options; for example the Su-24MK could carry more bombs (38 FAB-100 free-fall bombs against the 34 of the Su-24M and four air-to-air missiles instead of two. Even the on-board computer was different and was indicated with the abbreviation TsVM- 24. The Iranian Su-24MK could carry a partially different armament compared to the Soviet aircraft, seeing the anti-ship role accentuated and also being able to install a vast range of bombs of American, Chinese or national production.After the signing of the contract, in June 1989, deliveries already started the following year.

The Iranian Su-24MK fleet is also interesting due to its dual origin. Part of the aircraft is of Soviet/Russian origin, all delivered between 1990 and 1992. The other part is instead of Iraqi origin! As mentioned above, following the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq ordered from Moscow between 25 and 30 Su-24MKs, which went on to equip the 8o squadron stationed in al-Bakr base. To this day it is not completely clear what happened to all the aircraft after the devastation of Desert Storm.

A single Su-24MK with serial number #24635 remained intact in Iraqi hands until its demise in 2003 and was referred to by its owners as “Waheeda” (which is Arabic for “the loner”). All the others were either destroyed on the ground or were evacuated to neighboring Iran which wasted no time in forcibly putting them into service.

Immediately, the Coalition claimed 5 Iraqi Su-24MKs destroyed, but several independent analysts believe that not a single one was actually destroyed.

Depending on the sources consulted, the numbers and origins of the Su-24MKs that Tehran obtained between 1990 and 1992 would have been as follows:

- according to most Anglo-Saxon sources, the Su-24MK obtained were 36 divided between 12 of Soviet origin and 24 of Iraqi origin;

- according to most Russian sources, the Su-24MK obtained were 33 divided between 9 of Soviet origin and 24 of Iraqi origin;

- according to most Iranian sources, the Su-24MK obtained were 30-32 divided between 14 of Soviet origin and 16-18 of Iraqi origin.

Yet it is the opinion of the author of the following analysis that the numbers reported in these sources are underestimated because with the plethora of aircraft obtained, the Iranians established as many as 3 squadrons (71o, 72o and 73o) all stationed at the Tactical Fighter Base 7 (TFB 7) “Dowran” located near the city of Shiraz.

While a powerful aircraft on paper, the Su-24MK proved far from easy for the Iranians to handle. To begin with, Persian pilots had never before used aircraft equipped with metric-calibrated avionics. Secondly, the Su-24 is a large aircraft with very complex components (it is no coincidence that it has been compared to the F-111!) and this at the time led to the appearance of a whole series of problems in the logistics and of maintenance that the IRIAF struggled to solve, especially in light of the decision by Russia's Boris Yeltsin to join the sanctions regime imposed by the United States of America.

As a result of all this, attrition was high with as many as 5 Su-34MKs lost during the 90s in a series of accidents. The worst of all occurred on February 8, 1993 when a Su-24MK collided with a Tupolev Tu-154M of the Iran Air Tours over Mehrabad and in the subsequent crash all 133 passengers of the Tu-154M and the two crew members of the Su-24MK were killed.

The aforementioned departments continued to use the Su-24MK in the following years, however the gradually decreasing numbers due to the grounding of the aircraft due to the lack of spare parts, meant that in the early 71s all the aircraft still capable of flying were concentrated in XNUMXo squadron while the 72o and 73o they were dissolved.

The situation began to change radically from the beginning of the so-called "Arab Spring" when the leaders of both theArtish (Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran, ed) what gods Pasdaran they opted for the inauguration of a massive program to revitalize the military system. As part of this initiative, the Su-24MKs also finally obtained the necessary funds to be brought back into service and modernized.

Today the three squadrons operating the Su-24MK are fully operational again, which would assume that Iran has gotten other aircraft in a clandestine manner and it is interesting to note that, during 2014, the Su-24MKs of the country of the ayatollahs have even seen their baptism of fire during the air operations undertaken by the Iranians in support of the Kurdish and Iraqi forces engaged against the ISIS militias. In particular, on 1 and 2 December several Su-24MKs carried out numerous CAS sorties on call deep into Iraqi territory at the same time as similar missions carried out by the IRIAF F-4 and F-5.

If in the near future Iran will again be involved in a large-scale conflict in the Middle East, there is no doubt that, by virtue of its performance and technical characteristics, the Su-24MK will be an irreplaceable military cornerstone of in-depth attack strategies against of the enemies of the Islamic Republic. For this reason, the Persian military have never forgotten to give priority to in-flight refueling and thanks to the presence of a dedicated probe of a universal nature, Tehran's aircraft can refuel both from UPAZ-1A pods of Soviet origin and from Beech 1800 pods installed on Boeing 707s of the IRIAF tanker squadron.

Photo: IRNA / web / Shahram Sharifi