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From Russia With Love: Iran's New SU-30 Jets

[Updated below.]

Forget about what few parts may or may not get to Iran's fleet of F-14's. Say hello to Tehran's new Su-30 aircraft fleet purchased from their Russian allies. At the Center for Security Policy, Christopher Holton spells it out.

The reported Russian sale of Su-30 aircraft and aerial refueling tankers to the Islamic Republic of Iran is a very serious development. The Su-30 is an extremely capable aircraft, a potent adversary for aircraft like the F-15, F-16, Mirage 2000 and the F-18. It will be some time before the Iranians are trained up on them--perhaps a long, long time, if ever. But this is a true transformation of Iranian air power. Their current inventory consists of 1970s-era fighters (it is doubtful that any of their F-14s are in shape for sustained combat operations) such as the F-5 and F-4. The Su-30 is truly state of the art. With Iranian pilots at the controls, it is doubtful that these aircraft would be a match for US and Israeli combat pilots, but they could certainly present problems--a real threat--to just about every other country in the Middle East. And, in fact, a US pilot in an F-18 or F-15 would be presented with a greater challenge--by far--than anything the Iranians can present today. This comes about all thanks to our good buddy, Vladimir Putin.

Most of the world is increasingly concerned about Iranian sponsorship of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, HAMAS and guerillas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Virtually the entire world is concerned about Iran's nuclear program, which has all the hallmarks of a weapons program. So what does Russia do? Russia sells Iran advanced offensive weaponry, advanced air defense systems, and helps them build nuclear reactors.

The fact that the Iranians are buying 250 Su-30s is telling. The Iranian Air Force will go from having basically no advanced aircraft to having more than any other nation in the region, save Israel and our "friends" in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia. 250 is a big air force. By comparison, the Royal Air Force does not have 250 aircraft equal to the Su-30.

And while Defense Secretary Gates may publicly say (with a wink and a nod?) that the $20 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States is not intended to be a counter to Iran's growing regional threat, containing Iran surely remains both the impetus and direct result.

UPDATE: Over at Strategy Page, Harold Hutchison writes of this rumor within the context of "Lies That Benefit Everyone."

That said, not all of the effects will be negative. Israeli and American Air Forces will be using this purchase for the really important war – the annual budget. The Israelis will be asking for a lot more aid, and access to more advanced platforms, like the F-35 and F-22. The United States Air Force will be able to use this to push for more F-22s as well, keeping that production line open. That turn of events would make F-22 manufacturer Lockheed very happy. So will Saudi Arabia, which will now have reason to push harder for systems like Aegis. The Russian aircraft manufacturers, of course, will have the potential for a new customer.

In essence, rumors like this will cut both ways. Iran will benefit, but at the same time, so will potential adversaries – no matter what happens. In essence, these rumors will cause a lot of trouble – and could lead to a number of countries spending a lot of money to counter a deal that may not go through at all.

Such is the nature sometimes of the Rapid in RapidRecon, and Hutchison makes good points.