The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) is the main air arm of the Iranian armed forces. It is primarily responsible for the defence of Iranian airspace. This is a challenging mission due to the large and mountainous nature of the country, which makes it difficult to generate adequate radar coverage. It is also responsible for general air operations.
Iran Air Force History
The IRIAF originated from the former-Imperial Iranian Air Force, which existed before the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
Following the revolution, the Imperial Iranian Air Force was dismantled. It was then re-established as the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.
The new air force took on much of the structure and equipment (including aircraft) of its predecessor, although the number of personnel had been significantly reduced by approximately half, due to forced retirements and purges in 1979 and 1980.
Towards the end of the 1980s, Iran began to develop its own aerospace industry in order to ensure a reliable local supply of aircraft and spare parts.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force played a role in the Iran-Iraq war. It retaliated immediately against the unexpected Iraqi air strikes, which included attacks on six of Iran’s airfields, in 1980. However, it met strong resistance. The IRIAF sent strikes of as many as 140 aircraft against Iraqi targets, but it lost a large number of them. It has been estimated that 60 Iranian aeroplanes were shot down. The air force was very active during the first week of the war, but its efforts were only minimally successful. It lost large numbers of aircraft and pilots, between September 1980 and December of the same year.
The air force played a less active role during the rest of the war. From 1982 onwards, it played a primarily defensive role, while conducting some offensive air strikes. Meanwhile, it was struggling to maintain its fleet of American-built aircraft in the face of US sanctions. These difficulties stimulated the development of a domestic aerospace industry.
The IRIAF again played an important role in 1984 and 1985, when its F-14A Tomcat interceptors/multi-role fighters, played a vital role in defending Iran against a new onslaught by the Iraqi Air Force. More than 300 air-to-air engagements occurred between Iranian and Iraqi aircraft, from 1980 to 1988. The air force was also called upon to defend Iranian airspace against United States Navy aircraft, in 1987 and 1988.
Following the Iran-Iraq war, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force began to rebuild its aircraft fleet, purchasing new aircraft from China and the former-Soviet Union, including: Shenyang F-6, F-7M and FT-7 fighters; Su-24MK and Su-25 strike aircraft; MiG-29A and MiG-29UB fighters; An-74TK-200 and Il-76 transports.
After these entered service, the air force continued to operate large numbers of its older, American and European-built aircraft.
Iran has also managed to reverse-engineer some American aircraft designs, in order to maintain its air force.
In 1991, much of the Iraqi Air Force flew into Iran, in order to protect its aircraft from being destroyed during the Gulf War of that year. The aircraft involved included: Mirage F1BQ and F1EQ fighters, as well as more examples of; MiG-29A and UB fighters, Su-24MKs and Su-25s (Su-25Ks), Falcon 50 executive transports, and Il-76s (Il-76MDs), which included the IL-76 “Adnan” and Baghdad 1 and Baghdad 2, AEW conversions.
There were also a number of other types, which either have not become operational, or did not enter IRIAF service.
Iran then employed the majority of these aircraft in its own air force.
Since 2003, the Iraqi government has expressed an interest in recovering those aircraft.
Present of Iran Air Force
The IRIAF currently has about 52,000 active personnel and 331 combat aircraft.
Iran uses a number of different types of aircraft and it is currently expanding its air force, by adding a number of new aircraft.
The air force uses Mirage F1BQs and F1EQs, MiG-29As and F-14A Tomcats, as its main fighters. It also has a number of different types of multi-role aircraft, including: F-5A and F-5B Freedom Fighters; F-5E and F-5F Tiger IIs: F-14As and domestically-produced HESA Saegheh and Azarakhsh fighters.
It also has other types of aircraft, for different roles, such as: training, transport, VIP transport, aerial refuelling, reconnaissance and airborne maritime patrol. For the last role, it operates P-3F Orions, which also support the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy.
The IRIAF also has a number of different types of helicopters for transport, VIP transport and search and rescue roles. These are mainly AB 212s and Bell 214Bs and Bell 214Cs.
In addition to its aircraft, the air force also has various types of air-launched weapons, including rockets and missiles, many of which are indigenously-produced.
Iran began the manufacture of the Iran-140 transport aircraft in 2002. It is a licence-built variant of the Antonov An-140. In the same year, production of two Iranian-built fighter aircraft also began. These two are the Shafaq and Azarakhsh.
Iran is now also manufacturing its own helicopters, producing its own variants of the Agusta Bell, AB 206 and AB 212 types; under the new names Shabaviz 206 and Shabaviz 275.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force has maintained a remarkably similar composition and organisation, since about 1979.
It currently has a number of air bases around the country, including bases at Tehran-Mehrabad, Tabriz, Hamadan, Dezful, Bushehr and Shiraz. In addition to its permanent bases, Iran also uses a number of temporary bases when necessary. It is only recently that Iran has begun to add any new permanent bases to its air force, with two new examples believed to have been constructed in the country.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force is the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
The Commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, appointed by the Supreme Leader, is Hassan Shah-Safi.