The Air War Against Iran subject logo: MILGAM
Posted by: badanov

A ton of information about the Iranian Air Force is on the internet, a lot of it at Global Security. What is not readily available is information about Iranian air orders of battle. We know where Iranian airfields and air bases are, but we know very little about how the Iranian deploy their command and control over their aircraft.

We remember reading somewhere about how Iran conducts some of its military business in the air, concerning the Iran-Iraq war, where the Iranians used their few remaining F-14A Tomcats as an airborne early warning system.

In the article linked, we read how the Iranian maintain an IL-76, NATO name Mainstay, as an AEW platform.

The IL76 is a large aircraft with avionics capabilities similar to the US E3 with long range surface and air search radars, and plenty of room to act as a military air traffic controller. The range of those radars are said to be close to 250 nautical miles.

This cannot have been a cheap purchase for Iran, given the large amount of maintenance for both airframe and avionics as well as training for the specialists operating the aircraft, as well as the command and control structure necessary to employ this system to its maximum effectiveness. We have zero clue as to the cost but it can't have been cheap.

One additional advantage to the IL76 in combat providing early warning for oncoming military air activity, is the the aircract can provide guidance to low flying friendly aircraft to guide them to a general target area, as it were, without the need for the attack platforms to light up radar and giving away its position to enemy aircraft/air defenses.

The most advanced aircraft the Iranian have capable of carrying anti-ship missiles are the SU-24 and the Tu22M naval patrol bomber. The SU24 is similar to the F-111 Aardvark in mission and night-all weather capabilities. A low flying, wave hopping aircraft like the SU24 would be hard to spot by allied AEW systems until it reaches a launch point. Once its ordnance is released, the equation for opposing forces becomes even more grave than before.

The Tu22M is another story. While the SU24 is a ground interdiction aircraft that can carry antiship missiles, the Tu22M is first and foremost a naval patrol aircraft, a supersonic speed bomber that can carry a large array of weapons. Nearly every Russian Fleet Naval Aviation unit has at least a squadron ( 27 bomber aircraft ) of these in its inventory. The Iranians have an undetermined quantity.

At supersonic speeds this aircraft can be in and out of its AO in the blink of an eye.

So, an IL76 stationed off the western coast of Iran can direct these two military aircraft to its targets in larger numbers, sufficient enough to at least throw a solid punch, the SU24s at very low altitude and the Tu22M at high. A simultaneous attack could present some challenges to fleet air defense. You can't very well rely on Iranian militia ( Baseej ) to competently learn to operate advanced military aircraft in anything under 5 years.

The question then becomes can the Iranians do it? Have they been practicing because this is one mission you can't realistically expect crews to return from against US Naval/Marine Aviation?

About the IL76. You are commanding the CAP over a US CVBG. What do you do when you detect an IL76 lighting up its avionics package? You attack the IL76. It may well be defended against air attack, but this is one area of weakness that once it's neutralized, a naval aviator has little to worry about, plus it is likely that the most advanced fighter covering this platorm will be a MiG29 export version which sports minimal advanced avionics and missile/armament loadout.

The problem with these kinds of scenarios is that with the Islamic combat strategy of suicide missions, the Iranian need only be successful once to do damage. The onus in ensuring these aircraft do not get within firing range against a hgh value target, is placed not in the hands of a task group commander but at the theatre level.

It's best not to allow these aircraft to even leave the ground before they are engaged.

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