Brought to my attention by Bjørn Holst Jespersen the following image was uploaded on the Syrian Revolution Memory Project Flickr photostream. The photograph, whose EXIF can be found here, is the last of a set reportedly describing a day spent by Abu Jafaar “the citizen journalist” with the Al-Farouk Brigade of the FSA.
It was taken on Aug. 31 (at least, according to the EXIF), even if the caption says it was shot on Aug. 6 (noteworthy, all pictures in the set have the same caption: “Homs, Syria August 6, 2012″).
Anyway, the photograph clearly shows an F-5 Tiger fighter jet. Among the various operators of this kind of aircraft, Iran and Turkey are the closer ones.
Provided that the image was really taken in Syria, over Homs or elsewhere in the country, and considered that Tehran has recently admitted it is helping Assad against the rebels (recent imagery even disclosed the presence of Iran Air and Mahan Air planes at Damascus airport) there are some chances that the plane depicted in the photograph is really an Iranian F-5.
Maybe it’s a bit far fetched but this photo could prove Iran is a bit more actively than thought taking part to the air war over Syria. Even if it could be risky and surely destined to be unveiled quite soon by drones and intelligence gathering platforms spying on Assadists movements.
Less likely, the image could have been taken near the border with Turkey, thus showing a TuAF NF-5…
During the late ’70s Iran ordered 160 F-16As. However, with the fall of the Shah in 1979, the order was cancelled and those aircraft were never delivered, although some tooling and maintenance equipment reportedly arrived in country in readiness for deliveries.
Still, there are some (mainly Iranians who reportedly saw them) who argue two airframes did make their way to Iran. According to what it has been written on some aviation forums across the world, the two F-16s that were delivered before the procurement was cancelled, were based at Mehrabad Air Base near Tehran.
According to such accounts, one “Fighting Falcon” is still operational whereas the other was disassembled for reverse engineering and then sent to Pakistan. The jet sent to Pakistan was itself looked at by the Pakistani military with the idea of reverse engineering it, although Pakistan had bought the F-16 itself.
Some say that in return for the airframe Pakistan provided Iran with nuclear technology, although, this is just one of the many speculations that surround the story.
Anyway, the Spanish newspaper ABC has recently reported that at least one F-16 of the 23 purchased by Venezuela in 1983, was transferred to Iran by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
After a visit (to Tehran) in 2009 by the director of Venezuelan military, minutes that were signed after a high level meeting are thought to have implied that Venezuela promised to speed up further transfers of further jets, therefore there could be more than three airframes in Iran.
A quick google search for the above shows that various forums are awash with this after ABC and later Haaretz as well as several other media outlets ran reports back in June that seem to back this up.
It remains to be seen if proof is forthcoming.
Still, even if Venezuela really gave Tehran one of its jets, the airframe was already rather dated in 2006, and it would be of very little use to calibrate anti-aircraft radar systems against the most modern threats: for instance the Israeli Air Force, among the others, uses F-16I Sufa (Block 52) jets that are much different in terms of avionics and equipment from Block 15 examples.
Hence, not only there is no evidence any F-16 is currently in Iran, nor it would be of any real interest for the Iranian military.
Noteworthy, among the various images allegedly showing F-16 in Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force color scheme that can be found online, the one below is one of the most interesting. It seems to show Iranian (?) officers inspecting a (dual seater) F-16 in a hangar. The fact that the photo is in the usual FARS News agency framing makes it a bit more realistic.
However, the aircraft is in the Venezuelan Air Force color scheme and the image seems to have been taken inside one of the soft hangars at El Libertador airbase as shown in this photo on the F16.net website.
Therefore, either the image is a fake (like many others you can find on the Internet, some of those showing scale models) or it was taken by the FARS photographer Vahid Reza Alaei during a visit in Venezuela of an Iranian delegation.
On Apr. 17, Iran commemorated National Armed Forces Day with a ceremony attended by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and several of high-ranking military officials.
According to the Mehr News Agency, thousands goose-stepping soldiers took part to the parade in which some military vehicles and equipment were displayed, including the new generation of the Zolfiqar tank, the Samsam tank, the Borragh personnel carrier, the Naze’at missile launcher, the Misaq 2 missile launcher, the Badr tank transporter, and advanced radar and missile systems.
A previous article about the theoretical Israeli strike on Iran with the rendering of an F-15I dropping bombs on Tehran got a lot of attention and sparked debate. Someone criticized it for not being enough realistic, even if I had explained that the image had to be taken as such even if contained one (or more) wrong details. It was not supposed to be accurate that’s why I didn’t ask Al Clark, who designed it, to correct some elements of artist freedom.
In this article, a new Al’s artwork below gives me the opportunity to write something about one of the most famous aircraft in IRIAF inventory: the F-14 Tomcat.
According to “IRIAF 2010“, the book published by Harpia Publishing and written by Tom Cooper, Babak Taghvace and Liam F. Devlin, that I consider one of the most detailed sources about Iran’s Air Force, due to the lack of some spare parts, the fleet of more than 40 Tomcats is roughly divided into “airworthy” and “fully mission capable aircraft”.
The first fly without primary weapon systems and/or no AWG-9 radar; the second can perform QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) and air defense missions.
These aircraft are based at TFB.8 (Tactical Fighter Base 8) Baba’i near Eshahan, in central Iran.
Hence, although IRIAF officials have described the current fleet of F-14s as “completely overhauled” and “improved”, and referred to it a a “new generation of bombers” in the recent past, only a small amount of Tomcats can be used for air defense purposes in spite of the large amount of spare parts that Iran was able to clandestinely collect after the type was retired by the U.S. Navy and the efforts of various domestic companies to produce some specific parts and subsystems.
What is the role the Tomcat could play in a hypothetical war against Israel?
As already explained in the blog post about the possible long range strike on Iran’s nuclear program, IRIAF interceptors, should play “hide and seek” with the enemy forces: they could hide from the incoming packages and try to achieve some kills during the egress phase. They could be effective by simply disturbing the strike packages to let them “feel” the threat and waste some gas.
The Tomcats could somehow be effective against isolated targets, like drones, mainly before or after the first waves of air strikes: even a UAV kill could play a role in the psychological war against Israel.
For sure, radar activation would be reduced to a minimum: during the most intense part of the air campaign their AWG-9 radar would be either jammed (although it was domestically modified or locally upgraded to make it more jamming-resistant) or detected as soon as switched on, with the latter hypothesis implying the risk of interception by enemy fighters.
Obviously, just in case: before the whole thing starts the planes should be dispersed on one of the several Iranian airbases to prevent them from being destroyed on the ground at TFB.8.
There is much debate these days about the ability of Israel to hit Iran’s nuclear program. Some analysts believe that it would be a draconian challenge to launch such a long range attack on the facilities used for the atomic program while others are much more optimistic. To such an extent there’s someone who firmly believes that 25 F-15Is, each carrying a single GBU-28, and about a dozen F-16Is with lighter weapons could be enough to achieve the goal.
I’m among those who think that it is not going to be an walk in the park. The problem is not only to penetrate Tehran’s airspace but execute concurrent air strikes on several ground targets.
There are about 30 nuclear facilities in Iran, six of those are believed to be primary targets for anyone willing to halt the Iranian nuke ambitions.
Unless something really unbelievable happens (as, for instance, a southern circumnavigation or a northern trip with a stopover in Azerbaijan to enter Iran from the Caspian Sea or any other unexpected direction) there are only 3 possible routes to Iran: Northern (via Turkey), Central (via Jordan and Iraq) and Southern (via Saudi Arabia). Both require (more or less) a violation of sovereign airspaces as well as several supporting aircraft. AEW, EW, SEAD and many refueling planes.
The Israeli can almost do everything. But this is not a pre-emptive surprise strike. Unless the IAF is going to perform only a symbolic strike (that would be almost a suicide mission, considered the reaction it would spark) the one in Iran will be an extremely long range mission in which many fortified underground targets will have to be smashed along with other surrounding targets. Not static unprotected targets, but SAM sites, radars, and everything belonging to the Integrated Air Defense System that will try to repel the attacking force.
Unlike previous attacks on Iraq and Syria, that came almost unexpected, Iran is probably on heightnet alert status: with several geographically dispersed targets, the surprise factor would be quickly mitigated and IAF planes would have to deal with anti-aircraft threats and IRIAF fighter planes flying sort-of isolated air defense missions.
Furthermore, few analysts have taken Iran’s military capability into account. Even if the current Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force is mainly flying on vintage American and Russian “hardware” hardly maintained because of the international sanctions, it can still count on about 200 combat planes flown by proud pilots.
The Iranian fighters would not need to destroy many bombers. Disturb them in point-defense missions, let them spend some more fuel and make their long strike missions longer and more risky, would be enough.
Hence, a proper escort must be taken into account.
Drones will mainly provide pre and post-strike ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance).
Obviously, the scenario changes when/if air superiority is established and subsequent missions can be launched to look after individual targets in a battlefield freed of anti-aircraft threats. But this is something not going to be achieved very fast.
Summing up, if we consider that in 2007 air strike in Syria (isolated target caught by surprise) the Israelis employed ten planes to attack surface targets, I think that in Iran each target will require some 12-15 planes (spares comprised). This means that 60 planes would be called into action to strike 6 priority targets. If some secondary sites should be attacked as well, the armada would be made of several packages for more than 100 planes.
Hence, it would not be an air strike, but a small scale much dangerous air campaign.
That’s the reason why a conventional attack is unlikely.