Taking On Iran’s Air Force

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.

  • Hessam

    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

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

    • rq70

      America with those all presteiges was begging return of rq70.

    • mohamad

      The writer isnt dear because has sold humanity and rightness by writing this way. american use to do this way the decide for world and design a new world order and try to do that at any rate.
      The fighter and things you have made remember me of babylonian king who had made some aircraft to take god down from sky (new version aircraft but same people back of that).

    • mohamad

      TABAS 33 latitude

    • mohamad

      TABAS 33′ latitude

  • hamid

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

  • Philo

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

  • Almaleki

    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

  • aria

    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

    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

  • blight

    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

    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

    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?

  • John

    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.

  • tom Bower

    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.


    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.

  • James

    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…

  • Nostradaimus

    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!

  • 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

    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

    fuck ur mohammad and all arab

  • smokinjo

    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
  • Lucky
  • Lucky
  • Guest

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

  • mohamad

    America just remember Tabas
    where your lord (satan ) landed american airforce at 3 degree and they tested taste of even thinking about attacking IRI
    yeah america is powerful technologically but some one answer me what is it waiting for. Why it doesnt attack
    of course your lord(satan) knows but you don’t

    and you arabs dont adopt america as your father
    the. Prophet you speak about has brought some book which states dont take kafirs your friends.
    america keep remembering Tabas.;-)