Iranian Air Force active in Iraq

Lieuwe de Vries for Veenstra & De Vries Aviation Publishing. Translated from original Dutch article by Ruben Veenstra.

Although the United States and Iran usually are sworn enemies, it’s possible both of their air forces will meet above Iraq and work together in battling ISIS rebels who control large pieces of the region.

Judging from pictures and videos taken by local media and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense it appears that the “Pasadaran”, a nickname for the Army of the Protectors of the Islamic Revolution, has delivered seven of it’s Sukhoi 25 “Frogfoot” combat planes to Imam Ali air base near Nasiriyah. Imam Ali AB is also home to four other Su-25s which where recently purchased from the Russians. Four Iraqi and Ten Iranian pilots will fly the airplanes. Although Iran hasn’t officially confirmed the presence of it’s Frogfoots in Iraq, they wear a color scheme and serial numbers very reminiscent of the Iranian air force.

If these Frogfoots are indeed from Iran, the Iraqis will be familiar with them since there are the seven planes that were flown over to Iran during the first Gulf War to avoid destruction by coalition bombardments. Back then, the Iraqis believed that they would get them back after the war. However, Iran thought of them as a gift from their neighboring country, which at the time was still in control of dictator and Iranian archenemy Saddam Hussein.

The Frogfoot is a Russian design originating in the Cold War. Originally the plane was meant to attack NATO tanks by flying low-altitude passes. Just like the American A-10 Thunderbolt II the Su-25 proved to be very effective for providing close air support to ground troops. Due to it’s long and straight wings it can fly much slower and carry a large amount of rockets and bombs. It’s also fitted with a cannon with which it can engage soft targets and enemy troops. The Su-25 is designed to sustain heavy enemy damage while still being able to complete it’s mission.

It remains to be seen how effective the Iranian air support will be. Effective air support requires clear and streamlined communication between the pilot up in the air and the troops on the ground to prevent casualties by friendly fire. The NATO has developed a standard by deploying Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC), a service member on the ground specialized in directing pilots of combat airplanes and helicopters via a procedure called the “Nine Line Brief”. This brief is used to exchange all necessary information between pilot and JTAC by a standard and predictable method.

It’s hard to expect that the Iraqi forces and the Iranian pilots can achieve this level of cooperation. It’s possible that they have trained in similar situations individually but it’s unlikely that both systems can work together. If this is the case the Iranian aircraft can only be deployed to attack targets behind the lines, which would seriously reduce the Frogfoots effectiveness.

Meanwhile the Americans have enforced their presence with several AH-64 Apache attack helicopters in order to protect U.S. military instructors and other personnel from ISIS attacks. U.S. armed drones and aircraft deployed from aircraft carriers in the vicinity have made several reconnaissance missions in the past days in order to gather intelligence on ISIS positions.