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Taking On Iran’s Air Force

by hambling on May 17, 2006

The stand-off with Iran over its nuclear ambitions was just beginning while I was embedded with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 at Al Asad air base in Iraq. More than once the fliers lamented that they’d probably be back in the States by the time the “inevitable” bombing of Iran got underway. One conversation went something like this:

Me: Oh God. We can’t afford a war with Iran
Aviator #1: Whatever. We’d kick their asses.
Aviator #2: No, they’ve got F-14s!
Aviator #3: Yeah, my wife [deployed to northern Iraq] saw one!
Aviator #1: We’d still kick their asses.
Me: Oh God.

f14_16.jpgIf, God help us, the stand-off does turn violent, U.S. air power will play a critical role. For months pundits have predicted a massive bombing campaign to target Iran’s nuclear facilities, and perhaps even to attempt regime change.
But don’t expect Iran’s air force to roll over like Iraq’s did in 1991 and again in 2003. Unlike the Iraqi air force, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) appears to be well-armed, well-trained and eager for a fight. Besides the aforementioned F-14 Tomcats, 79 of which the U.S. sold to the country before the Shah was deposed, the air force operates several dozen of each of the following types:

J-7 (Chinese-built MiG-21 derivative)
F-4E Phantom
Mirage F1

All told, the IRIAF flies as many as 300 fighters. All are older designs, but have been maintained and, in many cases, upgraded by the indigenous aerospace industry, which has become proficient in reverse-engineering weapons and spare parts — and perhaps even engines. And the IRIAF has aerial tankers too — a force multiplier only the most advanced air forces maintain.
Veteran aviation correspondent Tom Cooper and his co-writer Liam Devlin have a fascinating feature in the current issue of Combat Aircraft Magazine, profiling the IRIAF. The authors have interviewed IRIAF defectors and U.S. Navy aircrew that have tangled with Iranian fliers over the Arabian Gulf. The feature cautions against the Western habit of underestimating the IRIAF:
In November 2003, a USAF E-3 Sentry flying a patrol over Iraq tracked a formation of no less than 16 IRIAF F-14As … This was the largest group of Iranian F-14s detected in flight by the U.S. military since 1997, when nine IRIAF Tomcats were tracked over the southern Persian Gulf by the U.S. Navy. … During the summer of 2005, several Su-24s were observed operating over the Persian Gulf, armed with Chinese-made C802K-2 anti-ship missiles. … Iranian Phantoms were sighted as well, usually carrying AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder [air-to-air missiles].

Now that the 1st Fighter Wing has its first F-22 squadron combat-ready, and with the Navy’s Super Hornets equipped with electronically-scanned radars, we have the capability to beat the IRIAF. But it wouldn’t necessarily be an easy fight. Throw in Iran’s SA-15 surface-to-air missiles and you’ve got a tough air-defense nut to crack. And remember … an air campaign might be just a prelude to a ground invasion. Last year I stood on the Iraq-Iran border and listened to Iranian armored divisions throw down practice artillery barrages. The Tennessee National Guardsmen I was with (the 278th cavalry regiment equipped with M-1 Abrams tanks) admitted that they couldn’t punch through that border if they wanted to.
We must find a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
David Axe
P.S. — This discussion of Cooper’s article includes some interesting insights.

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Hessam June 24, 2010 at 4:59 am

Dear writer,
You wrote "… Iranian fliers over the Arabian Gulf." Actually there is no "Arabian Gulf ", for thousands of years the world call it "Persian Gulf ", and I can't understand how someone like you can make a mistake like that!!! Hope search the web and see what is the real name.


Junio34 March 15, 2014 at 9:13 am

What's a name got to do with the point he's trying to get across?


hamid October 3, 2010 at 11:18 am

It is not called f-in arabian dulf, it is called PERSIAN GULF get your f-in fact right.


Philo October 3, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Maybe the F-in Persians call it that, but no one cares what they say anyways…


sam November 25, 2011 at 5:18 pm

f.. u and all your redneck friends.. you are right in the world that you come from.. no one cares..


shss July 1, 2012 at 3:43 am

arabs not exist 2500 years ago . camels exist 2500 years ago


Almaleki October 6, 2010 at 12:34 pm

it is Arabian Gulf ,, most of the lands on the shores are Arab ,, come take it if you want it is arab ,, you dont like that ,, just call it Muhammad Gulf ,, the man that came from arabs and the man that made iranians muslims ,,
now back to topic .. Iran dont have a big F-14 force but only like 30 and they work AWACS escort ,, and if you wouldnt destroy in day one bombing they would lose AA battle with more manuverable AMRAAMs that the old versions of phoniex they use .. Iran cant whistand 5 days of Aerial fight with US ,, cheers


Guest December 31, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Firstly you probably fail in geography. Just like uneducated Arabs. IT always has been Persian gulf and Persian Gulf will remain Persian.

You fail in history as well. A reminder. Persian kicked your ass out of the country so bat that your asses still hurt after many centuries ;-)


bes January 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm

The Persian Gulf's waters are full of fishes, a delicate meal good for humans, not that good instead for your subhuman metabolism you little lizard eater. Return chasing your lizards in your dusty desert.

Nice however to see your lizard eaters cheering for the US invaders to attack Iran and not daring yourself to pick up a fight against Iranians despite. Gives a good idea about arabs treachery and bravery.


blight January 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Persians were a historical power long before the scattered tribes of Arabia were united by force by a warlord named Muhammad. Yes, the Islamic Empire eventually conquered Persia and spread Islam, but the Persians are anything but "Arab".


Dariush August 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm

In the operation Beit-Al Moghaddas Iranian army captured and killed more than 45,000 Iraqi soldiers as well as destroying 70%of Iraqi Air Force and as well wiping off iraqi navy in 1982. Anyway, I am not a Muslim and don't give a shit about stupidity that Islam has brought to human beings…and remember Syria, Lebanon, Iraq as well as Omman and Qatar have been colonised by Iran over the past few years.


Ali Reza May 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm

How stupid…. no civilized and educated person never has called persian gulf, another name…
Be just a litte honest, not more….


Cadet_Force@live.com May 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm

fuck you stupid muslim muslim is not even a true religion and i know that the iranian air force is not powerful air force but we have lots of missile


Shukrullah May 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm

**** you stupid muslim muslim is not even a true religion and i know that the iranian air force is not powerful air force but we have lots of missile

Read more: http://defensetech.org/2006/05/17/taking-on-irans


Muhammad August 10, 2014 at 11:20 am

you can try Iran's power.


Arash November 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Are you talking about "Arabian Golf"? If you talk about persian gulf, be advised it named almost 3000 years before mohammad's time, and be sure Iran can stand more than several years, As we did during the war against you(IRAQ + All these arab country), also do you think IRANIAN are like you arab guys who couldn't resist more than six days against Israel?


aria October 18, 2010 at 6:34 pm

you wronge.the history say us that this is persian golf.it was persian golf.and it will persian golf for ever.you cant change it never.iran has been iran from thousands years ago.great and big.glorry and brightness*history dosnt mean without iran.iran is one of those countrise that make history.but very arab countries dont have history over than 200 years.all their history is camel an desert,since any country wasnt,iran name was on persian golf.you con go to very refrences and see.historical maps,texts,books,biographys and other.in none of theme there isnt arab golf.but there is a holy name in theme;persian golf,sinous persico,persian sea and other.the history dont lie.but other people lie easily without any shame.shame on you


jhm October 19, 2010 at 12:10 am

Iran is a joke. f14s??? Iran can only maintain like a dozen due to teh lack of spare parts. other then that the air force is down right pathetic. Mirage f1s- relics, mig 29s, mostly from teh ones theat ran away from iraq nearly a decade ago. teh armor company guy complained of iranian hegemony in their defense but our super hornets and strike eagles would pummel them to pulp and our hornets undertake SEAD missions to take out hte radar positons. also, back in 1991 iraq built pretty impressive defensvie positions but we simply bypassed them and or bombed them to smithereens. Iran- dont mess around if your going conventional cause your doomed


Guest December 31, 2010 at 10:43 pm

My you are the joke. What kind of name is that —– jhm —- your father did not like you or what?? get a life funny guy


jhm November 26, 2011 at 1:04 am

hmmm guest? ur a guest in your own house?


bes January 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Iraqis made the same mistake with regard to our F14 combat fleet. Anyway, you can start the bombing first, doesn't mean you'll be then able to end the war too. Ground forces will need to enter Iran and take over the country to let you hope find peace. That would mean sending your armies that are already defeated by the guerilla in Iraq and now getting a beating in Afghanistan to find in their way 10 millions Iranians eager to fight back. That will mean another 2 trillions $$ to borrow from the Chinese before finally going completely broke (if you're not already). Good luck though if tempting it.


jhm November 26, 2011 at 1:05 am

no we will just watch your own students ( the educated bunch) over throw you guys.


Bass January 26, 2012 at 9:48 am

We don’t need boots on the ground. We should drop our entire inventory of MOAB and level the whole country with the entire Persian population. Problem solved.


blight January 26, 2012 at 9:43 am

I think you underestimate how many bombs it takes to kill people.

Dariush August 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm

You are mistaken….the reality is that Iran is the number one American enemy. But Americans don't dare to attack us. They just invade useless countries. Moreover, all the Middle Eastern people know that our government spend money and ammunitions to kill your soldiers. How come you neglect that and American don't dare to even respond….Come on! Speak with facts…


blight August 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Conversely, the Iranians "don't dare" attack Iraq again, even though Saddam is long dead and the Iraqi Army is puny by comparison to its glory days of the '80s. Something about being cowardly and hiding behind plausible deniability?

All in all, the US gains more by ignoring clandestine Iranian aid than it does by carpet bombing Tehran.


jhm November 26, 2011 at 1:06 am

soooo we r weak if we "ignore" ( which we are not) your nations aid to terrorist organizations? if you can't confront us openly, well do not strut about like your the greatest.


blight January 23, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Iran; if not caught by surprise and able to move its air forces out of the most vulnerable air bases could probably wage a decent air attack against all comers. If most of their air force is moved to the interior they can sortie against any enemy air attacks and exploit interior lines. However in air to air it remains to be seen if they will succeed against an invading air force.

On the ground, yes the Iranians have lots of artillery; but the truth is a cavalry regiment would definitely not have enough power alone to invade a nation state. Additionally, to invade Iran we'd probably be moving tons of troops into Iraq-giving away the timetable and creating a vulnerable rear area that could be hit by pro-Iranians and nationalists tired of foreigners, and especially those afraid of giving Iran a cassus belli to lob Scuds into Iraqi soil.


Thinker April 24, 2011 at 7:08 am

to almaleki:
you are a realy stuped person when you care about a name and trying to change persians gulf name it is good for you that americans take your money and oil and sell you wepons and finally kick your ass
gud luck


I am lost June 16, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I looked on several world maps on line and could not locate the Arabian Gulf you were taking about. Where exactly is it located at?


Delfin Balitnit February 4, 2012 at 10:41 am

Arabian Gulf by the Arabs and Persian Gulf by Iranians, that's how they call it.


John November 25, 2011 at 7:02 pm

F-22 Would play a big role, but lets be honest here. We can not afford another war. Yet israel is trying their best to draw us into one with iran so they wont have to. Typical israeli tactics. Make everyone else fight for them. The reason israel has not done this on their own is because of the Iranian air defenses. S300's will make quick work of F-15's and 16's. So being realistic. Even we would not be able to send them over without losses. Iran is not iraq, its not going to be as easy. They are also supported by Russia and China.
They are better trained and armed than the iraqi military. They arent just arabs, they are mostly persians, i.e not complete idiots. Another thing. Iranian people actually like the US. Its the government that does not. The only reason they dont is because we support israel. I surely will never call them an ally. If you all keep up on history, youll find israel to be quite opposite. Try reading on the USS Liberty as example.


Sine Arrow November 25, 2011 at 8:29 pm

John wrote:

"We can not afford another war."
Not unless we cut budgets outside DoD so deeply that many pols here will squeal, and desert any government who would oppose the Khomeinists with force. Which is exactly why the Khomeinists may force one.
"S300's will make quick work of F-15's and 16's. So being realistic. Even we would not be able to send them over without losses."
Anyone who plans a campaign without casualties is a fool. The only worse fool is one who refuses to plan a campaign that may be forced upon them. Which is why the F-22s should lead the way, taking out the S300s whenever their radars become active.
"Another thing. Iranian people actually like the US. Its the government that does not. The only reason they dont is because we support Israel."
I see you have not followed the last 34 years of US/Iranian history. The Khomeinists who dominate that government are as much Caliphatists as the Salafis in the Sunni population are. The US is still the biggest roadblock to a renewal of the Muslim version of the old Roman Empire, the Caliphate, and *that* is why we are disliked by the Iranian government. Israel continues to be a minor excuse to distract english-speaking people from the World War 4 goals they proclaim loudly in both Farsi and Arabic. Absent the Khomeinists, the Iranians would probably return to their 30 years friendship with Israel.
"I surely will never call them an ally."
Then you would ignore their distinct service to industrial society in World War 3 (AKA "The Cold War"), during the 5 years when the Egyptian Army had established a base on the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen. The Egyptians were "stabilizing" it, in service to their alliance with "the socialist camp", so that it could be used as the lever to take control of the rest of the Arabian Peninsula and its oil.
The 1967 War destroyed the bulk of the Egyptian Army's forces, and forced their withdrawal from Yemen. Why take that threat seriously? For the same reasons the KGB thought it a good investment. The Egyptian Army was the last outside army to conquer the Arabian Peninsula from the Wahabbis, from 1813-1818- starting from a base in Yemen and a captured Red Sea port. The remnants of "the socialist camp" will *never* forgive Israel for their service to industrial society in doing this plan in, just as we should never forget it.
I grew tired of swatting the accusations about the Liberty decades ago, so don't bother.
Long and short of it: Whether we want it or not, we are *still* in a World War with groups who intend that a Caliphate be the most powerful group on Earth, to the detriment of industrial society around the world. A campaign in that war *may* yet include Iran. Let us hope the Iranian people can do the job for all of us, as they seek to share in the freedoms of industrial society around the world.
Tom Billings


larry November 26, 2011 at 12:57 am

Thanks for being the voice of informed reason.


Cohen December 2, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Completely distorted version of the truth stop with your bias meaningless opinion Israel is a friend of America it's a fact even if the uss liberty is always used as a propaganda tool your pathetic ! Move to Iran


tom Bower January 2, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Your like a bunch of old women over there in Iran, worn out like your country and your leaders. You stay there and we will stay here, savvy? Stay the hell away from me or your ass is grass.


VAGABOND January 5, 2012 at 2:30 am

But, but, but…what of Russia and China offering Iran whatever support it needs to smack the US. What assistance have they already provided behind the scene to ensure Iran is not left standing on its own. That they don't care about Iran is immaterial to them as long as they can use the situation to test their own materiel. Knowing how corrupt the governments of both China and Russia are, why would they care what help they give Iran as long as they can confront the US as a defacto of Iran.


Mir52 January 24, 2012 at 11:26 am

"Knowing how corrupt the governments of both China and Russia…" – that is interesting. How corrupt those governemtns are? Maybe you can shed some light on the claim that on its face is extremely baseless. On your way of explaining, could you please also let us know how corrupt the US governemt is. Or, when you call the corruption "lobbying", suddenly it changes the nature of the activity. Too much brainwashing is going on in the USA – you are perfect example of it.

Read more: http://defensetech.org/2006/05/17/taking-on-irans


James January 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Russia will back it's "ally" iran, the same way it backed it's ""ally" iraq…
Iran is a possible customer, that is about the extent of it…not a "brother to mother Russia".
Iran talks a tough game, but when it comes down to it, they are broke, the sanctions are making them more broke, Iran can't afford to close the straits of Hormuz…and even if they were stupid enough to do so, the US Navy would make short work of their puny fleet.
The US will have every excuse then, to do the same thing it has to all the other "tough talker's" in the area, and simply kick your ass.
They will neutralize any threat to their air power, then beat you like a drum…


Jaws7 January 5, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I think you take a simplistic approach to the idea of closing the straits.
There are many ways to close it without using war ships. Just the idea
of the possibility of a tanker being sunk by a missile will cause insurance
rates to climb where it would not be profitable to go into the straits. Also,
attacking the oil facilities would have the same effect. And do not forget
about their forces and allies in these countries. Israel has an excellent
airforce but in 2006 was not able to stop Hezbollah.


blight January 5, 2012 at 8:52 pm

The Iranian Navy might try shadowing ships leaving the Straits or acquiring radar locks. A few weeks of intimidation would scare Lloyd's.


Nostradaimus February 7, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Present day Iranians are not Persians. That is as long as they use Arabic names, Arabic Religion and Arabic Ideology. Wakeup the Persian in you and get rid of your Arabic shakles. You are not Arabic you are Persians!


blight_ February 27, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Don't go there. It's un-Islamic. Kind of doubt many Iranians left still identify with anything that isn't Islamic at this point…


Michael Brooks February 27, 2012 at 4:34 pm

F4? The F4's with a gun or without one? LoL. Our National Guard is phasing those out of service for the F15's which the Air Force is disgarding. Iran's obsolete force might hold up against Iraq but once the turkey shoot is over over Iran, the ground forces will be made into hamburger by the pummeling they will take without quarter by our B-52's. The only thing that will save them is Obama's lack of a spine.


watchmanonthewall March 4, 2012 at 2:22 am

I have to wonder what is the mentality that makes people think they can go attack and bomb a country and start a war over a pretext of WMD. "We won't get fooled again?" We learned nothing from Iraq? Anybody that thinks attacking Iran is a good idea is a fool. Even Israel is trying to get the brainwashed US suckers to do their dirty work for them again. Why is a Nuke in Iran such a threat? Israel has 200 and look how they behave. They are a rouge terrorist state if ever there was one. Chosen by Satan maybe. Why doesn't the US demand Israel stop its nuclear program? Why the double standard? If Iran has a nuke – do you think they stupid enough to fire it at Israel? The world is run by Zionist fools. It will be our undoing.


amir August 23, 2012 at 4:58 am

fuck ur mohammad and all arab


smokinjo December 11, 2012 at 8:05 am

I see a bunch of non military idiots are here spouting off about that which they do not know. We have unlimited numbers of GPS guided Cruise missles. That means we don't even have to see the targets. Just punch in the coordinates fire and forget. They cant shoot all those down. This would destroy most of their aircraft and runways without even ONE of our fighters leaving the ship. We would kick their asses without leaving the safety of our ship. Idiots


Lucky March 21, 2013 at 10:34 pm
Lucky March 21, 2013 at 10:35 pm
Lucky March 21, 2013 at 10:36 pm
Guest December 31, 2013 at 10:42 pm

You need to watch this so you get a better sense of reality! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hs9IXbBEVF4


blight_ March 1, 2012 at 7:49 am

What else is Iran doing? Building centrifuges under a mountain and stonewalling the IAEA?


Ali Reza May 8, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Bravo Habib…
Blight, we dont care what iranian govt. does, we just appreciate the most wonderful culture and civilization in the region, the persian…


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