At least one IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-14 Tomcat flew alongside the Russian presidential aircraft and its Su-35S Flanker escort over Iran.
On Dec. 6, 2023, Russia’s President Putin made a rare, lightning trip to the Middle East to meet with UAE and Saudi leaders, in an attempt to stake out a more influential role in the region. Escorted by four Su-35S Flankers armed with R-77 and R-73 air-to-air missiles, the Presidential Il-96-300PU, flew to the United Arab Emirates and then visited, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The Russian Defense Ministry showed footage of the escort of the Il-96-300PU (RSD501) presidential plane by Su-35S fighter jets during a flight to the UAE. pic.twitter.com/yBdKpmsg2j
— Massimo Frantarelli (@MrFrantarelli) December 6, 2023
Flying as RSD501, the Il-96 could be tracked online during its trip from Moscow to Abu Dhabi and then to Riyadh, being, at a certain time, the most tracked flight on Flightradar24.com.
— Mencho (@MilitaryEye) December 6, 2023
The route the Il-96 flew to UAE crossed the Iranian airspace, where the Russian presidential “convoy” of 5 aircraft was intercepted and escorted by at least one IRIAF F-14A Tomcat. The group of six aircraft was spotted and filmed from the ground at high altitude.
Higher quality video show that it was an IRIAF F-14A Tomcat which escorted the Russian presidential aircraft Il-96PU and 4 Russian Su-35S Flankers over Iran in their flight to Dubai. https://t.co/f2HebWgZct pic.twitter.com/LHjxuavYbA
— Mehdi H. (@mhmiranusa) December 7, 2023
It was not the first time the Persian Tomcats, world’s last operational F-14s, escorted a Russian aircraft over Iran. In 2015, Iranian F-14 Tomcat escorted Russian Air Force Tu-95 Bear bombers flying in Iranian airspace during their 9h 30mins missions from Engels airbase and back, along the Iraq-Iran-Caspian Sea 6,500 km-long corridor, against targets in Syria.
Iran initially ordered 80 examples, with 79 being delivered beginning in February 1976. According to different sources, Iran has currently around 40 – 42 airframes at its disposal, some of those upgraded to F-14AM (“Modernized”) standard that includes domestic avionics (radar and RWR) and weapons: R-73E, AIM-54A, AIM-7E and AIM-9J. IRIAF has two types of F-14As: PMC (Partially Mission-Capable) ones, usually suitable for Training and can become FMC in case of war; and Fully Mission-Capable Tomcats with fully operable fire control system, armament system and INS. These FMC F-14As are usually used for 24/7 Quick Reaction Alert and other combat missions (Usually 70% of the airworthy Tomcats are FMC).
In 2018, during Iran International Air Show at Kish Island, Iran, around two dozen F-14s were estimated to be fully ready for combat, with partial readiness maintained for 16 more airframes. These aircraft are based at TFB.8 (Tactical Fighter Base 8) Baba’i near Eshahan, in central Iran.
According to Al Jazeera, after landing in Abu Dhabi, Putin was escorted to the presidential palace, where he was greeted with a 21-gun salute and a flyby of UAE military jets trailing smoke in the colours of the Russian flag.
The Russian President then met President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss, among the other things, cooperation in the energy industry and advanced technologies. Putin then flew to Riyadh, to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, with oil cooperation and the Israel-Hamas war on the agenda.
Interestingly, during its Middle East trip, besides its Flanker escort, the VVIP plane was also supported by a Tu-214SUS, an Airborne Communication Center, “equipped with a communication and special technical means to communicate anywhere in the world en-route and designed to carry the head of state, as well as government delegations” as well as a Tu-214SR, whose role is to acting as a flying radio relay system between the Presidential/Government plane, ground-based receivers and satellites.
— 360°Radar (@wipljw) December 6, 2023
— 360°Radar (@wipljw) December 6, 2023
Remarkably, the video of the Russian aircraft departing at night for their trip back home shows that at least three Flankers took off in formation.