Iran recently received Yakovlev Yak-130 advanced training jets from Russia in its latest attempt to modernize its ageing Air Force. The Yak-130 is a double-seat, twin-engine jet with a secondary light attack capability. As per reports, the jet has a 3,000 kilograms maximum take-off weight, a speed of 572 knots, a 1,600 kilometer to 20,00 kilometer range, and a three-hour endurance. This is the first combat-capable jet received by Iran in years. Iran has supplied hundreds of kamikaze drones to Russia to support its war in Ukraine. Despite expectations that Iran would receive advanced Su-35 combat jets by mid-2023, Russia instead has supplied the Yak-130 training jets (see Table 1 for a comparison between the two jets).
Iran was set to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia and it remains unclear whether the deal has collapsed as indicated by various reports. Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani recently said that Iran could produce the fighter jets indigenously when asked about the status of the Su-35 fighter jet deal. Iran has been intensifying its attempts to manufacture domestic training aircraft, as evident from the recently inaugurated production line of HESA Yasin aircraft. Su-35 is a modern jet that encompasses various advanced components and Iranian claims of producing such complex systems indigenously cannot be taken seriously as Iran lacks the ability to produce advanced propulsion systems, digital avionics, or advanced communication system components, in addition, it lacks the finances and technical know-how.
Iranian officials had earlier on several occasions announced that Russia would sell the Su-35 fighter jets to Iran. Earlier this year, the deal regarding Su-35 deliveries to Iran was confirmed by Iran’s Air Force Commander Brigadier General Hamid Vahedi and Shahriyar Heidar, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security Committee.
The Russia-Ukraine war certainly has impacted Russia’s defense production and possibly this war is the reason for the delayed delivery of Su-35 jets to Iran. Similarly, Russia was not able to deliver arms to India earlier in March, with many observers linking this non-delivery also to Russian war efforts in Ukraine. The growing demand for military equipment in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war has led to uncertainties in Russian defense exports.
Despite the delay in the delivery of Su-35 jets, the delivery of Yak-130 jets indicates the Russian desire to deepen defense cooperation with Iran. The delay is also attributed to the close ties between Russia and Israel. In June, Axios published a report indicating that Israeli officials had raised concerns with their Russian counterparts regarding Russia’s expanding military collaboration with Iran and the potential supply of advanced weapons systems to Iran by Russia. The Kremlin’s growing relationship with the Gulf states also is important to note in this context as Moscow prefers not to risk its developing relations with its Gulf partners at this point. Russia could also be considering the long-term implications and possible divergences with Iran, especially if relations between both countries deteriorate and Iran decides to deploy the jets in Syria, potentially conflicting with Russian interests.
Yak-130 jets are likely to be used by the Iranian air force to train its pilots for Su-35 jets as they serve as a suitable platform for advanced pilot training. The Yak-130 is often used as a lead-in fighter trainer that helps pilots develop the necessary skills and experience before moving to advanced combat jets like the Su-35. Moreover, these jets provide a cost-effective way to train pilots in various flight maneuvers and combat scenarios, assisting them in preparing for the challenges of operating advanced high-performance fighter jets such as the Su-35. Defense experts have opined that the acquisition of Yak-130 jets is a logical step before acquiring fourthor fifth-generation fighter jets.
The historical ties between Iran and Russia have been based on mutual fears and needs rather than trust and if the Raisi government fails to reconcile with the West, it is highly likely that it will give further priority to Russia, with Moscow viewing its relations with Tehran as a strategic card to play. The Su-35 deal may not have fallen apart, and it is possible that the Iran-Russia partnership will strengthen across multiple sectors. Both nations are contending with severe sanctions, and Russia is unlikely to abandon its collaboration with Iran. Iran currently has limited alternative options to acquire advanced military systems. In previous attempts to procure advanced air-defense systems from Russia, Iran also encountered significant delays. At this point, Iran only has a few reliable defense partners who could help it advance its air force modernization program.
Table 1: Su-35 and Yak-130 – Comparison
|Role mission||Highly advanced multi-role fighter aircraft, air-to-air attack, ground attack, high maneuverability, reconnaissance and escort missions||Light combat training aircraft, basic and advanced trainer jets, reconnaissance missions|
|Maximum speed||2778 km/h||1,060 km/h|
|Stealth and radar||More advanced radar systems||Less advanced radar systems|
|Crew||1 man||2 men|
|Weight and dimensions||Length 21.9 m Wing span 15.3 m Height 5.9 m Weight (empty) 18.4 t Weight (maximum take-off) 34.5 t||Length 11.49 m Wing span 9.72 m Height 4.76 m Weight (empty) 4.6 t Weight (maximum take-off) 9 t|
|Engine specification||2 x Saturn 117S (AL-41F1S)||2 x Povazske Strojarne ZMK DV-2S turbofans or 2 x Ivchenko-Progress AI-222-25 turbofan engines|
Data sources: Military-Today.com and Janes.