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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force
Country Iran
Part of Iranian Armed Forces
Engagements Iran-Iraq War
Chief of Armed forces Ataollah Salehi
Hassan Shahsafi

The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) (Persian: نیروی هوایی ارتش جمهوری اسلامی ایران) is the aviation branch of the Iranian armed forces. The present Air Force came into being in the early 1980s when the former Imperial Iranian Air Force was renamed.



The IRIAF came into being when the former Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) was re-named following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, in February 1979. The British publishing company Orbis' Warplane partwork magazine seems to indicate the renaming did not actually take place until after the Iran-Iraq War had broken out.

This "new" Iranian air force largely inherited the equipment and structure of the former IIAF, even losing most of its leading officers in the course of post-revolutionary chaos, as well as due to the prosecution of those considered as loyal to the Shah, pro-U.S. or elsewhere by the new government in Tehran.

Due to strained relations with the west, Iran had to procure new equipment from Brazil, Russia and the People's Republic of China. Since the Revolution, the exact composition of the IRIAF is hard to determine, but estimates do exist. Many aircraft belonging to the Iraqi Air Force took refuge in Iran during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and many were put into service with the IRIAF or taken apart for spare parts.

Due to the continuous spare parts shortages faced by the air force, a decision was made in the late 1980s to develop a local aerospace industry to support the air force.

In 2002, Iran with the co-operation of Ukraine, successfully started the manufacture of the Iran-140; a licence-built version of the Antonov An-140 transport aircraft. Simultaneously, Iran began construction of two 100% domestically-produced fighters, upgraded using technology from the F-14 Tomcat and the F-5 Tiger II. The fighters have been named the Azarakhsh and the Shafaq.

Since then the country has also become self-sufficient in the manufacture of helicopters. The country claims that it is capable of producing the old U.S. AH-1 Cobra gunship. Additionally, Iran also produces Bell Helicopter Bell 212 and Bell 206 helicopters in serial production. These are known respectively as the Shabaviz 2-75 and the Shabaviz 206.


Iran–Iraq War

C-130 Hercules in 1988

A series of purges and forced retirements resulted in the manpower of the service being halved between February 1979 and July 1980, leaving the IRIAF ill-prepared for the Iran–Iraq War (also called the "1st Persian Gulf War"). The sudden Iraqi air strikes against six Iranian airfields and four other military installations, launched on the afternoon of 22 September 1980, came as a complete surprise and caused a shock in the IRIAF. Nevertheless, they caused relatively minimal damage, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force retaliated to the invasion, flying strikes involving up to 140 McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs against main Iraqi airfields, oil industry installations, and communications sites. The strikes were met by fierce defensive tactics by the Iraqi forces, with as many as 60 Iranian aircraft shot down. Intense Iranian activity inside Iraqi airspace during the first week of the war proved unsuccessful. The IRIAF paid a heavy price, losing dozens of its best pilots and aircraft in the period between September and December 1980.

Although the readiness rates of the IRIAF significantly increased in the following months, its overall role and influence declined, as the clerical government prioritized resources for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) militias and simultaneously attempted to develop a separate air arm for this service.

After the successful liberation of most Iranian areas captured by the Iraqis in late spring 1982, the situation of the IRIAF changed completely. From an air arm that was offensive by nature, it was largely relegated to air defense and relatively infrequent bombing attacks against targets of industrial and military significance inside Iraq. Simultaneously, the IRIAF had to learn how to maintain and keep operational its large fleet of U.S.-built aircraft and helicopters without outside help, due to American sanctions. Relying primarily on antiquated equipment purchased from the U.S.A. in the 1970s, the Iranians began establishing their own aerospace industry; their efforts in this remained largely unrecognized until recently.

However, the IRIAF was able to obtain limited amounts of spare parts and weapons for its American-made aircraft during the Iran-Contra Affair, when Iran was able to buy American spare parts and weapons for its armed forces. Deliveries came via Israel and later, from the USA.

P-3F of the Iranian Air Force

During 1984 and 1985, the IRIAF found itself confronted by an ever better organized and equipped opponent, as the Iraqi Air force - reinforced by deliveries of advanced fighter-bombers from France and the Soviet Union - launched numerous offensives against Iranian population centers and oil-export hubs. These became better known as "The Tanker War" and "The War of the Cities". To defend against an increasing number of Iraqi air strikes, the IRIAF leaned heavily on its large fleet of Grumman F-14 Tomcat air superiority fighters. Tomcats were mainly deployed in defense of the strategically-important Khark Island (main hub for Iranian oil exports), and Tehran. Over 300 air-to-air engagements against IrAF fighters, fighter-bombers, and bombers, were fought in these areas alone between 1980 and 1988.

Confronted with the fact that it could not obtain replacements for equipment lost in what became a war of attrition against Iraq, the IRIAF remained defense-orientated for the rest of the conflict, conserving its surviving assets as a "force in being". From late 1987, the IRIAF found itself confronted also with U.S. Navy fighters over the Persian Gulf. A number of confrontations that occurred between August 1987 and April 1988 stretched available IRIAF assets to the limit, almost exhausting its capability to defend Iranian air space against Iraqi air strikes.

Post Iran Iraq War

C-130 Hercules in 2008

Immediately after the end of the Iran–Iraq War, the IRIAF was partially re-built by limited purchases of MiG-29 fighters and Su-24 bombers from the Soviet Union, as well as F-7M and FT-7 fighters from China. While a welcome reinforcement, these types never replaced the older, U.S.-built F-4 Phantoms or F-14 Tomcats (now the only air arm in the world to continue using the fighter), or even Northrop F-5 Tiger IIs. Instead, the IRIAF continued efforts to maintain these types in service, and began a number of projects with the intention to refurbish and upgrade them.

During the Gulf War in 1991, many Iraqi pilots and aircraft of the Iraqi Air Force, escaped to Iran to avoid destruction in the bombing campaign. The Iranians impounded these aircraft after the war and never returned them, putting them in the service of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force [1] - claiming them as reparations for the Iran–Iraq War.

These included several Mirage F1s, MiG-25 Foxbats, MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-27s, Su-24MK Fencer-Ds, MiG-29 Fulcrums, Su-20s, Su-22M Fitters, Su-25 Frogfoots, MiG-23s and a number of Il-76s, including the secretive, one-off AEW-AWACS prototype Il-76 "ADNAN 1"

In 2006, the Iranian media published a series of reports that suggested Venezuela was interested to sell its 21 F-16 Fighting Falcon to Iran.[2] The rumors were confirmed, when an Hugo Chavez adviser told the Associated Press that: "Venezuela's military is considering selling its fleet of U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to another country, possibly Iran, in response to a U.S. ban on arms sales to President Hugo Chavez's government". In response, Sean McCormack, the U.S. State Department spokesman, warned Venezuela and suggested: "Without the written consent of the United States, Venezuela can't transfer these defense articles, and in this case F-16s, to a third country".[3]

According to Moscow Defense Brief, between 2000 and 2006 Russia delivered the following items to Iran: 6 Su-25UBK ground attack fighter-trainers, 12 Mi171Sh military transport helicopters, 21 Mi-171 transport helicopters and 3 Mi-17B-5 medical helicopters. A 700$ million repair and modernization program of the Iranian Air Force's MiG-29 and Su-24 fighters was also completed.[4]

Current composition

The IRIAF composition has changed very little since 1979. The first, very limited re-location of several units - including disbandment of some, and establishing of new squadrons - occurred in autumn 1980, when the F-4D-fleet was concentrated at Shiraz, two squadrons of F-4Es moved from Shiraz to Hamedan, and a squadron of F-14 Tomcats deployed to Mehrabad. Other deployments during the war with Iraq were mainly of temporary character, even if a major re-organization of existing air-defense assets - foremost SAM- and AAA-units - was undertaken in 1985. There has been no major re-organization during all of the 1990s either.

Equipment, capabilities and combat performance of the IRIAF strongly influenced the development of the Iraqi Air Force (IrAF), during the 1980s, but also that of the United Arab Emirates Air Force, in the 1990s and the most recent times.

Jane's Sentinel Estimate of Units 1993

Tactical Air Base Location Type Unit
TAB 1 Mehrabad F-5E squadron
Mehrabad F-7M squadron
Mehrabad F-14A/MiG-29 squadron
Mehrabad C-130H/Il-76 squadron
Mehrabad F 27/Falcom squadron
TAB 2 Tabriz F-4D/E squadron
Tabriz F-5E squadron
Tabriz F-7M squadron
Tabriz C-130H flight
TAB 3 Hamadan F-6 squadron
Hamadan F-7M squadron
TAB 4 Dezful F-4D/E squadron
TAB 4 Dezful F-5E squadron
TAB 5 not identified

Alleged purchases


The Jerusalem Post reported that Iran has signed an arms deal with the Russian Rosoboronexport arms group to buy 250 Su-30 MKM warplanes and 20 Il-78 MKI aerial tankers. It is reported that Israeli defense officials were investigating the potential Iran-Russia deal, in which Iran would pay $1 billion a dozen squadrons’ worth of the jets.[5] Iran and Russia have both denied this and have rejected these claims as propaganda.[6][7][8] In a recent broadcast the "Mehr News Agency" has reported that they (the reporters) saw a dozen Su 30s in a maneuver that took place on 15 and 16 September 2008; further the report reads: "In this joint maneuver of the IRIAF and the AFAGIR which is called the 'Guardians of the Nations Skies' the Air Forces of Iran have tested domestically developed systems as well as newly purchased systems (from Russia and China)."[9] The harsh warnings of Israel that it could attack Iran at any time and the Russo-American conflict over Georgia have led to reported weapons sales to Iran by Russia, but so far there have no details been revealed by either side.


The Russian news agency Novosti reported that Business & Financial Markets said Iran has signed a deal with China to buy two squadrons/24 of J-10 fighter planes with Russian-made AL-31FN engines. The total cost of the planes is estimated at $1 billion, and deliveries are expected between 2008 and 2010. China denied that it had agreed to sell its home-grown fighter jets to Iran, saying no talks had taken place. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters: "It's not true, it is an irresponsible report, China has not had talks with Iran on J-10 jets."[10][11][12]

JF-17 Thunder

According to Global Security, in July 2003 Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corporation (CAIC) unveiled the new ‘Super-7’ or Chao Qi fighter plane to the public, China supposedly received orders from Iran. The plane, now called the FC-1 is an export version of the JF-17 Thunder and entered production in 2006. As of 2008 Iran hasn't received any such plane.[5]

Aircraft inventory

Aircraft Country of Manufacture Type Year(s) Produced Iranian Designation In Service[13] Notes
Air superiority fighter
Dassault Mirage F1  France Air-superiority 1991 24 Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force seized over 24 F1EQ and F1BQ flown over from Iraq during the gulf war in 1991.
Mig-29A/UB  Soviet Union Air-superiority 40 MiG-29B (Fulcrum-A) and MiG-29UB [14]
Shenyang F-6 Farmer  China Multirole 1960s F-6 18 being phased out.
F-14A Tomcat  United States Multirole 1974-1979 44 20 operational[14]
F-4D/E Phantom II  United States Multirole 1960s 47 Originally Ordered 225 , being phased out.
F-5A/B/E/F  United States Multirole 1965 65 Originally Ordered 166 F-5 and 15 additional RF-5E, While receiving the F-5E and F, Iran started selling its F-5A and Bs to other countries including Ethiopia, Turkey, Greece and South Vietnam; by 1976, they were all sold apart from some F-5Bs retained for training.
HESA Saeqeh  Iran Multirole 2007-present 16
F-7M Airguard  China Interceptor N/A 24 [15]
Close air support
Sukhoi Su-24  Soviet Union Close air support N/A 24 Originally Ordered 36
Sukhoi Su-25  Soviet Union Close air support N/A 13 captured
HESA Azarakhsh  Iran Close air support 1997-2001 Azarakhsh 6 A production schedule established for 30 aircraft over the next years
Agusta-Bell 206  Italy Utility helicopter AB 212 5
Panha Shabaviz 2061  Iran Utility helicopter AB 206A 3
Agusta-Sikorsky AS-61  Italy Helicopter AS-61A4 2
Bell 214  United States Medium-lift transport helicopter Bell 214C 25
Boeing CH-47 Chinook  Italy Heavy-lift transport helicopter CH-47C 4 built by Elicotteri Meridionali
Kaman HH-43 Huskie  United States rescue helicopter HH-43F 8
Mil Mi-8  Soviet Union Medium-lift transport helicopter Mi-8MTW 4
Aerial refueling
Boeing 707  United States Aerial refueling 707-3J9C 10 many modified for special missions
Boeing 747  United States Aerial refueling 747-100F 5
Dassault Falcon 20  France VIP transport 1
Dassault Falcon 50  France VIP transport 3
Lockheed JetStar  United States VIP transport JetStar II 1
Beechcraft Bonanza  United States trainer F33C 20
Embraer EMB 312 Tucano  Brazil Basic trainer 15
Fajr-3  Iran Trainer F.3 N/A
Dorna/Tazarv  Iran Trainer N/A 2 25 planned for 2010 [3]
IAMI Parastoo  Iran Trainer 12 [4]
HESA Simorgh  Iran Trainer
Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer  Switzerland Trainer 20
PAC Mushshak  Sweden  Pakistan Trainer Mushshak 23 A Version of Saab Safari built by Pakistan
Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star  United States Advanced trainer T-33A 5
Fokker F27 Friendship  Netherlands Tactical airlift F27-400M
Harbin Y-12  China Utility transport 8
Ilyushin Il-76  Russia Strategic transport 15
Lockheed C-130 Hercules  United States Tactical transport C-130E
15 At least 15 C-130s still in use.
Pilatus PC-6 Porter  Switzerland Utility transport 12
Rockwell Commander 690  United States Utility transport 690A 4
Xian Y-7  China Tactical transport Y-7 14 built by Xian
Socata TB  France Utility transport TB 20
TB 200
Maritime Patrol
Lockheed P-3 Orion  United States Maritime patrol P-3F 5 71ASW SQN
Airborne Early Warning
Ilyushin Il-76  Soviet Union Electronic warfare Adnan-1 0 In 1991 Gulf War two IL-76AEW fled from Iraq to Iran where they remained.[16] Only one remained operational for transport purposes, as the AWACS systems on board were no longer operational.[17] This aircraft was destroyed in a mid-air collision on 22 September 2009.[18]
A U.S. "Top Gun" F-14A, painted to resemble an Iranian fighter for air combat adversary training.


Incidents and accidents


In the last several years several new airfields have been constructed in central- and eastern Iran. Some of these facilities have since seen full-scale deployments of IRIAF units, and it now appears that at least two became permanent "Tactical Fighter Bases" (TFBs). These are the first such bases established since 1979. Except new airfields, with Chinese support, the IRIAF constructed also a number of new early warning radar sites around the country. Its ability to control the national airspace, however, remains limited - mainly due to the rugged terrain and lack of airborne early warning assets.

Aside from maintaining 14 TFBs, the IRIAF operates numerous temporary detachments on several minor airfields around the country. Ex-Iraqi Mirage F.1EQs, usually based at TFB.14, near Mashhad, were frequently seen over the Persian Gulf, in 2005 and 2006.



The IRIAF markings are only slightly different to those used by the IIAF.

The main difference is addition of the word "Allah" (meaning "God" in Arabic), in red, on the white field of the fin flash, and the text "Allah hu Akbar" (translated to "God is greater"), in white, on the bottom of the green, and the top of the red field.

The roundel remains the same as used before.

The word "Allah" is applied also on a number of F-5 Tiger IIs on the top of the fin, and undersides of the port (left) wing of IRIAF F-14 Tomcats.

Missiles and Rockets

Air-to-Air missiles

Air-to-Surface missiles

On 8 March 2009, Iran declared that it has successfully armed some of its front-line fighter jets with domestically-manufactured long-range air-to-surface missiles, which are capable of hitting targets within a range of more that 110 kilometers at sea.[20]

Surface-to-Air missiles

See also


  1. ^ BBC News, mentioned in article
  2. ^ چاوز: جنگنده های اف – ۱۶ را احتمالا به ایران می فروشیم (Aftab News)
  3. ^ Venezuela Threatens to Sell F-16 Fleet to Iran, Fox News
  4. ^ Russia on Iran’s Market for Arms Moscow Defense Brief
  5. ^ a b [1]
  6. ^ DEBKAfile DEBKA Reports: Iran buys 250 long-distance Sukhoi fighter-bombers, 20 fuel tankers, from Russia1 August 2007
  7. ^ Navy Times Reports: Iran may buy 250 jets from Russia 1 August 2007
  8. ^ defensetech Iran's New Fighter? 2 August 2007
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ Yossi Melman. "Iran to buy from China 24 fighter jets based on Israeli technology" Haaretz, 24 October 2007.
  11. ^ Kommersant. "Iran buys Israeli fighter jets" RIA Novosti, 23 October 2007.
  12. ^ RIA Novosti - Opinion & analysis - What the Russian papers say
  13. ^ Aviation Week & Space Technology 2009, 26 JAN 2009 240. Web.5 Aug 2009. <>.
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Beriev A-50 Mainstay, Air Forces Monthly, August 2008 issue, p. 95
  18. ^ a b "Iranian Military Planes Crashes in Annual Parade". Defensenews. Retrieved 23 September 2009.  
  19. ^ "Accident description". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 23 September 2009.  
  20. ^ Iranian jets will fire long-range missiles, PressTV, Retrieved on 8 March 2009.

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