Tehran dumps Russian Su-30SME and MiG-35 in favor of Chinese J-10C fighter jet

BEIJING – After the end of the arms embargo in October 2020, Iran will be able to acquire, among other things, fighters for its Air Force. It was previously believed that Tehran, an ally of Moscow would most likely stop at Russian planes, but now China may be in the favorites.

The Iranian Ministry of Defense is mulling the purchase of China’s J-10 multi-role fighter jet, the Sina News Agency reported on Wednesday.

Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Tehran last week.

Iran may drop its plan to buy Russian MiG-35 and Su-30 fighters, and opt to acquire Chengdu J-10 jets from China by investing half of the $3 billion financial assistance provided by Qatar. The $3 billion aid was offered by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani when he met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran last week. Of the Qatar fund offered as compensation to families of victims killed in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “accidental” downing of Ukrainian airliner, Tehran plans to invest $1.5 billion on buying 36 Chinese jets, reports Chinas Sina News.

On this J-10C fighter, PL-10 air-to-air missiles hang from the outboard wing pylons and long-range PL-15s from the inboards. (Image Credit: Chinese Internet)

Although, heavy fighters Su-30 and their derivatives, to which the Iranians used to pay close attention, has been often criticized by the Royal Malaysian Air Force and Indian Air Force for not having enough spare parts,–plagued with engine failures. The Islamic Republic to protect financial interest by not investing wrong fighter jet like the Russian Su-30SME.

This contradicts recent reports in the Russian state media that have long being stating that Tehran is “seriously interested” in procuring its jets. “Although Iran appears to be interested in Russian Su-30 jets, Iran could pick the Chinese alternative in light of the recent criticism against Russian military aircraft, primarily on account of the lack of spare parts,” the Sina report said.

However, Iran can count on Chinese aircraft – the Russian MiG-35 and Chinese J-10C are considered the main contenders for this role. Both fighters belong to the 4 ++ generation and began to be operated in recent years.

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At first glance, the comparison is in favor of the MiG-35. It is more maneuverable, with a prospective AESA radar (although MiG-35 is fitted with a pulse-doppler radar) and is capable of operating at high speeds and altitudes.

In addition, the choice of the J-10C can be dictated by political reasons – earlier, Russia has repeatedly conceded to Western countries in matters of arms supplies to the Middle East.

At one time, the deal was frozen on the sale to the same Iran of a large batch of MiG-29 fighters in the 90s. Later, already under Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow refused to supply S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Tehran.

China is not so inclined to listen to advice from outside, so as a supplier of weapons, it is much more reliable. In addition, the Chinese are investing more in the development of air-to-air missiles – which means that in the future, the J-10C can afford more advanced weapons than the R-77 which miserably failed in Kashmir skirmish. Also, the simultaneous purchase of a light Chinese and a heavy Russian fighter gives Iran the opportunity to take advantage of both aircraft schools.

The PLAAF has stopped production of the Chengdu J-10B, in favor of the improved J-10C. Like its predecessor, the J-10C features the diffuser supersonic inlet (DSI) but it is equipped with an indigenous active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire-control radar.

The J-10B/C series has also become PLAAF’s latest multi-role fighter, since it can perform ground strike and suppression of enemy anti defense roles with the KD88H missile and YJ91 anti-radiation missile, respectively. 

When trading with the Chinese, Iran has the opportunity to rely on barter, for example, to receive fighters in exchange for oil – while Russian-Iranian trade is much more modest in scale, and such transactions are hardly possible.

Finally, during the toughest sanctions against Tehran, it was Beijing that invested heavily in the Iranian economy, providing the country with support, which could also be a key factor.

The Iranian Ministry of Defense has not commented on this latest report from China’s Sina News.

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