29 Décembre 2020
T-90, Su-30, Mig-35 or J-20? Iran's arms buying and selling list
Questions: Raphaël MEIER
Answers: Bassam ECHO
A: Everyone is talking about the end of the UN arms embargo on Iran which expired on October 18, so are we going to see an arms race in your opinion?
While many observers have concluded that Tehran will embark on a policy of frantic arms purchasing, relying in their vision on its enormous appetite for systems and technologies of which it has been deprived for more than 15 years.
Other analysts believe that the end of the embargo will above all offer Iran the opportunity to export its own arms production. Their reasoning is based on the estimate that Iran is 85% self-sufficient thanks to the efforts of its defense industry and that the latter's exports will generate a source of foreign exchange.
A: What is Tehran's official position on this?
The statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif, which followed the end of this ban, did not come only to contradict these two analytical visions. When the representative of the Iranian government is reassuring its Gulf neighbors by saying that Iran does not want to embark on a regional arms race, he has also aimed at another more prosaic goal. His message was also addressed to his two strategic partners, China and Russia.
Its two visions seem contradictory between them and incompatible with the declaration of Tehran. The reality, if there is one, is necessarily more nuanced. The three approaches are relatively fair and complementary.
Thus, the proponents of the first theory are right about the needs of the Iranian armed forces. It is obvious that the Iranians will seek to expand their armaments by completing the spectrum of what they have from above. That is to say that they will not actually seek redundancy by buying third generation fighters that they are already capable of producing and that they are already lining up in their arsenals, this also applies to their tanks or to sub. -light sailors that they never stop improving and from which they project superior class designs. But let's be clear! Iran is unable as it stands to design more complex fourth or fifth generation systems without outside help.
It is true that the Islamic Republic has reached a high level of self-sufficiency, and that its manufacturers provide it with 85% of its supplies, but even the rich and industrially advanced nations are obliged to supplement their arsenals with foreign supplies. This applies to the great European powers which cannot do without American technological contribution or they depend on the components that their allies sell to them. The Americans themselves buy Israeli components. Even the Russians have collaborated with Italy on the design of their Yak-130 which has a lot in common with the M-346 advanced training and ground support aircraft. In short, if even China needs to acquire defense systems in Russia or elsewhere, Iran cannot escape this rule.
A: That is to say that Iran will mainly buy what it does not produce itself, it is quite logical, but why are you talking about double talk towards its Sino-Russian allies who are apparently its main suppliers?
Tehran's official position, which says it does not want to embark on an arms race, is not intended to reassure the Gulf monarchies which openly advocate an alliance with Israel. That would make no sense, as these Arab neighbors spend significantly more on their armaments and their defense budgets are about 17 times the defense budget of Iran. The arms race has therefore been taking place for years, given the colossal amounts that Riyadh or Abu-Dhabi, not to mention the other Gulf capitals, are investing. No, this Iranian statement has only one goal, that of telling its two potential suppliers, which are Moscow and Beijing, not to rub their hands too much. The Iranian declaratory maneuver simply seeks to negotiate better. The Russians in particular are not fooled and know exactly what the Iranian Army needs. But the Iranians are skilled negotiators and want above all to obtain technology transfers.
A: Concretely, who is affected by the ramp-up? In other words, which units or formations will the acquisition program benefit from?
Note that I mentioned the Iranian National Army and not the Pasdaran corps in other words, The Guardians Of The Revolution. This follows from several factors which will be set out in a reasoning which I will develop later.
It can therefore be concluded that Iran will not buy foreign systems en masse, but will supplement its indigenous arsenal with quality-tested weapons. One can imagine for example the following scenario: The Iranian air forces will continue to rely on their locally manufactured planes such as the Azaraksh or the third generation Saega, to be able to line up hundreds of aircraft and constitute the backbone of the combat aviation. But from now on, they can also supplement their device with a few dozen more advanced imported aircraft, to constitute 4 or 5 elite and air superiority squadrons.
It is the same case with tanks, armored troops will always be massively equipped with Zulfiqar or Karrar tanks. The latter is a modern nationally designed tank and not a copy like the first. But the best armored units will surely be equipped by 200 or 300 foreign machines with the best in the world. The most convincing proof of what I am saying here is the fact that the Iranian army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have ordered 800 locally made tanks, including Karrars. This news reported on Wednesday, July 18, by public television.
Deputy Defense Minister Reza Mozaffari-Nia said: "Iran is building 50 to 60 tanks per year as required by the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps." Iran has already presented the Karrar, in March 2017. Al Karrar which means in Arabic and Persian the Assailant), is a sophisticated Iranian amphibious tank and incorporates national technologies.
A: So there won't be a massive import plan, the Islamic Republic is just going to buy a portion of its arsenal abroad and it basically concerns the high end to complement what it produces massively?
This ratio between national and foreign equipment may vary according to the fields concerned. It is surely reversed when it comes to heavy gunship. It is notable to note that Iran, which produces submarines, space rockets and satellites and which also produces transport helicopters, does not produce any heavy attack aircraft. There is indeed an attack helicopter that is produced, but it is a version inspired by the American Cobra AH-1. So a light device with an old design and no equivalent of the american Long-Bow Appache acquired by the Saudis. So the question of whether Iran will buy heavy attack helicopters is not in doubt, but rather how many and what Tehran will order. Is it the Mil Mi-28 Night Hunter or the K-52 Aligator, which the Iranians will choose? I have my own idea on this, but I will develop this topic later.
It will be more difficult to answer the question of the choice on the future fighter-bombers, because the open options are much more numerous, Mig-29 or 35, Su-30 or the Sukhoi-35 seem the most obvious competitors on the Russian side. On the Chinese side, the J-20 should be the only aircraft to seduce the Iranians, since the J-11 is only the Chinese copy of the Russian Su-27 SK and that the Iranian engineers are quite capable in the long term, of make a light fighter such as the Chengdu J-10. But here too the question remains to be developed.
A: What are the export opportunities for Tehran, what types of equipment or systems and to which country can it export them? Knowing the problems linked to American or Saudi Israeli lobbying ...
The unknowns in the equation are also the materials that Iran will be able to export and who will be its customers. Very recently, state and official sources announced the delivery of Iranian weapons to Venezuela, by cargo plane and through Tunisia. Without giving more details on the nature of the cargo. We can however deduce by the choice of the means of transport that it is not about tanks or light submarines. More seriously, it could be Sejil, Fateh-110 or Shahab-3 ballistic missiles putting American territory within range and constituting a real strategic contribution for Caracas, or more modestly Bavar 373 air defense systems or the Sayad.
The South American customer which is also supplied by Iranian fuel, could also have ordered electronic warfare devices whose reliability the Iranians have already proven to be reliable on several occasions, especially with the much publicized capture of the American drones which they managed to hijack at least twice. Iranian cyber aid last year helped counter computer attacks against electrical dams and electro-magnetic charges to overload Venezuela's high-voltage networks.
There are of course other potential customers. It is known that Tehran has long provided free non-state organizations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Ansarallah in Yemen, Hashd in Iraq or Palestinian Jihad as well as Hamas and many others among which we can cite the Fatimiyouns in Afganistan. But this time it is an agreement between governments and official exports, just like for Syria.
A: The choice of suppliers or customers therefore meets political criteria of alignment ... but this does not impact the decisions regarding the choice of systems? ... That is to say, if we buy this Korean system rather than this Serbian system, is it for reasons of privileged relationship and not for the system itself?
To answer all these questions, in a future analysis, we will try to display the possibilities and opportunities that will influence the choices of Iran and those of their partners.