Iran Air Force
Iran History & Air Arm
Part I of II
Part II of II
IIAF -Imperial Iranian Air Force (mid '20s-feb79)
IRIAF - Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (1980 to 2012)
“The US-trained Iranian Imperial Air Force was widely regarded as second only to Israel's in the Middle East - more than a match for Iraq and a serious adversary for even the Soviet Union. Before the Revolution, the Air Force was organized into 15 squadrons with fighter and fighter-bomber capabilities and a single reconnaissance squadron. In addition, 1 tanker squadron, and 4 medium and 1 light transport squadron provided impressive logistical support.
From its inception, the Air Force also assumed responsibility for air defense. The existing early warning systems, built in the 1950s under the auspices of Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), were upgraded in the 1970s with a modern air defense radar network” (Ref. 1127).
Phantom with Iran
“Next to Israel, Iran was the largest overseas operator of the Phantom. A total of 32 F-4Ds, 177 F-4Es, and 16 RF-4Es (plus 8 F-4Es borrowed from the USA and subsequently returned) were supplied to Iran before the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic fundamentalist regime resulted in a cutoff of further arms supplies.
The Shah of Iran had ambitious plans to use his country's oil wealth to make Iran into a major military power in the Persian Gulf region. The United States government actively supported the Shah's ambitions, hoping that his government would be effective counter to any Soviet expansionist intentions in the area. As part of this expansion of Iranian military power, the Nirou Havai Shahanshahiye Iran (Imperial Iranian Air Force) placed a order for 16 F-4Ds in 1967. A second batch of 16 more F-4Ds was ordered later.
The first batch of F-4Ds arrived in Iran on September 8, 1968, with a total of 32 F-4Ds being ultimately delivered to the Imperial Iranian Air Force. Iranian F-4Ds were used in several unsuccessful attempts to intercept Soviet MiG-25s that were spying on Iran” (Ref. 1138).
“For many years little if any information could be found anywhere about Project Dark Gene and Project Ibex, athough both projects played a significant role in the ongoing programme of intelligence gathering targeted against the Soviet Union in the late 1960's and 1970's. Now, thanks to the efforts of Tom Cooper and Art Kremzel, some details of these projects are slowly beginning to emerge. There must be many personnel still alive who were involved in supporting these projects and I hope they will also eventually choose to contribute to our knowledge of what actually happened. In particular, I would like to try and obtain copies of any photographs showing the aircraft that actually took part in either project, as well as images of the Tracksman 1 and Tracksman 2 sites in Iran and the elusive USAF Col John Saunders.
Research undertaken by Tom Cooper, Editor, www.acig.org and Art Kremzel
Project Dark Gene
Throughout the Cold War the US conducted almost daily sorties around the edge of the USSR and Warsaw Pact countries, as part of a long-standing programme to identify and classify radars, SAM sites and any other electronic emissions of interest. The information gathered would then be used to try and establish the safest ingress routes to various targets for US and NATO bombers and fighter-bombers should WW3 ever break out. Given the huge landmass of the USSR, it was hardly surprising that some gaps in their radar coverage would be identified by these ELINT sorties and that, once these gaps had been found, it was almost inevitable that they would then be further exploited to try and gather even more useful intelligence.
Iran has a long border with what was then the southern part of the USSR and during the 1970’s, before the revolution that saw the Shah deposed, Iran maintained a good relationship with the USA. As part of this close relationship it was agreed that various long-range radars and listening posts could be established in Iran to enable the USA to monitor activities behind the Iron Curtain. However, it was also realized that, as the border between the USSR and Iran contained a number of significant gaps in overlapping radar cover, a low-flying reconnaissance aircraft could easily get over the border and take some useful photographs of areas of interest. When these cross-border flights were eventually detected they would have the added advantage of stirring up a hornets next of activity by other radar and SAM sites, allowing valuable intelligence on their location and operating frequencies to be scooped up by high-flying ELINT aircraft and listening posts positioned just the other side of the border. This ELINT activity was probably part of ‘Project Ibex’, but a more pro-active reconnaissance programme also took place around the same time.
From 1968 onwards, in recognition of the good relationship between the USA and Iran, 12 Northrop RF-5A aircraft were delivered to the IIAF, however, all was not quite as it seemed. In fact it appears that officially these aircraft never actually existed – their serial numbers were deleted from Northrop’s production list to make them ‘deniable’. In addition, the aircraft were actually flown by USAF pilots until 1971 under an operation known as Dark Gene and were used to make covert reconnaissance sorties across the border into the USSR, gathering mainly ELINT. It is understood that two of these aircraft were actually shot down inside the USSR whilst being flown by USAF pilots – they ejected and, presumably after pleading that they were actually training IIRAF pilots and simply got lost, they were quietly allowed to return to Iran, although this has yet to be confirmed. The RF-5A’s were also ‘A’ wired and had a secondary war role to carry a nuclear weapon and if necessary attack various targets in the USSR.
However, although the sub-sonic RF-5A’s were useful and presumably helped generate some interesting intelligence, it wasn’t really what the USAF pilots wanted to be piloting when they crossed over the border into the USSR – something with a little more grunt was called for and the RF-4 fitted the bill nicely. In addition, the Shah, who presumably was kept informed of the intelligence obtained by the RF-5A overflights, was keen for Iran to play an even more active role in this activity and offered to pay for the RF-4s. A solution was agreed – Iran would pay for the RF-4s and they would be flown by mixed crews of USAF and IIAF personnel, allowing the IIAF crews to gain valuable operational experience. In 1971 the first six RF-4s arrived in Iran, officially these were RF-4Es, however, sources involved have indicated that the airframes were actually highly unusual RF-4Cs. In fact it appears that these aircraft had been specially built for this operation and contained various specialised ELINT equipment and cost over $12 per airframe, making them the most expensive F-4s ever built. To date no authentic photos of these unique RF-5As and the expensive RF-4Cs have been discovered” (Ref. 1139).
“After Germany, Iran was the largest customer for the RF-4E, a unarmed reconnaissance version of the F-4E built strictly for export. A total of 27 examples were ordered by Iran. The first RF-4E destined for Iran rolled off the production line at McDonnell in St Louis in the late fall of 1970. The first RF-4Es arrived in Iran in 1971. Fifteen more RF-4Es were delivered in succeeding years” (Ref. 1138).
“Some details of the 1973 incident have emerged. On 28 Nov 73 an Iranian RF-4C, flown by an IIAF pilot Maj Shokouhnia with USAF Col John Saunders in the rear seat, was detected inside the USSR. The RF-4C made a run for the border and was at Mach 1.4 when it was intercepted by a MiG-21 flown by Capt Gennady Eliseev. Col Saunders began firing out decoy flares to try and prevent the MiG from locking on a heat-seeking missile, eventually using all the 54 flares carried. The MiG-21 finally managed to launch two R-3S missiles at the RF-4C, but both missed. However, whilst turning hard to limit the chances of the MiG achieving a good lock-on, the RF-4C had lost some airspeed, allowing the MiG-21 to suddenly cut a corner and close up. It is presumed that Capt Gennady Eliseev then made a conscious decision to ram the RF-4C to prevent it escaping, as the MiG-21 aircraft rammed the aircraft from the left and below, near the engine nozzles, probably cutting off the tail of the RF-4C, throwing it into a high-speed dive. Capt Gennady Eliseev was killed in the collision and was posthumously decorated with the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ medal. Maj Shokouhnia and Col Saunders both ejected and were captured by Soviet ground forces. They used their cover story as briefed and, as the RF-4C had impacted the ground at something like Mach 2, there was little if any evidence the Soviets could use to prove otherwise” (Ref. 1139).
IIAF F-4D Phantom II 3-601
April 16, 1974: IIAF F-4D Phantom II 3-601 during"Annual Instrument Check" from Tehran TAFB to Shiraz TAFB. The aircraft was piloted by 1/Lt.Keyvan Nourhaghighi, (Pilot in Command) with Instructor in back seat Major Javad Fakoori. The F-4D suffered a hydraulic failure during approach to Shiraz TAFB, landed safely by 1/Lt Nourhaghighi
“Project Ibex was launched in around 1974, with Iran and the USA as equal partners, however, Iran paid almost the entire cost of the project, some $500 million, to the main US contractor - Rockwell Inc. Project Ibex was a joint CIA+NSA / Iran enterprise for building and operating a series of observation and listening posts along the Soviet border, as well as for the purchase and operation of a number of reconnaissance aircraft. There were five ground stations; three jointly run by the IIAF/USAF crews and two operated by the CIA or, more likely, the NSA. The CIA-crewed stations were established at Bushehr (Tracksman 1) and at Kapkan (Tracksman 2). The most distinct functions of these five intelligence-gathering stations were: to monitor the radio and telemetry traffic of the Soviet armed forces in southern USSR, especially to find evidence of heightened military activity; to monitor Soviet missile testing; and to receive high resolution photographs from the orbiting spy satellites.
USAF aircrews flying ELINT missions out of U.S. bases in such places as Okinawa and Alaska were alerted by Tracksmen messages to watch for Soviet missiles. These sites were considered so sophisticated that Stanfield Turner described them as systems built for the 21st century. Certain elements of the IIAF were also included in Project IBEX and were tasked with providing air defense for all five stations; all the stations were also surrounded by barbed-wired and mine fields and could be quickly blown up in the event of some unauthorized personnel managing to gain entry” (Ref. 1139).
A P-3F Orion of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force
Additionally, two DHC-4 Caribou STOL aircraft were purchased solely for the task of supplying logistics and transporting personnel to the remote IBEX stations. With this in mind it’s interesting that, although the IIAF never operated the DHC-4 Caribou, one is still on display at the IIAF Museum, in Mehrabad, Tehran - in full IIAF markings! The fate of the other Caribou is unknown. The original plan for IBEX also called for two of IIAF’s Boeing 707s and two of the six P-3F Orion patrol aircraft to be converted for ELINT roles. However, rather than the P-3F Orion, the IIAF opted instead to purchase four C-130E/Hs, mainly because they were capable of operating from rough airfields at high altitudes, whilst carrying a significant ELINT payload. The four chosen C-130E/Hs were modified by E-Systems, Greenville Division, while work on one Boeing 707-3J9C was started in 1975” (Ref. 1139).
“The first combat use by Iran of the F-4D was in 1975 when Iran provided military assistance to the Sultan of Oman in actions against rebels. One of these F-4Ds was lost to ground fire.
A Boeing 707 tanker aircraft (left) refuels two F-4E Phantom II fighters (foreground) and two RF-4E reconnaissance aircraft, of the IRIAF.
“To complement the ground radar component and provide a blanket coverage of the Gulf region, the United States also agreed to sell Iran 7 Boeing 707 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft in late 1977. Following the Revolution, Washington canceled the AWACS sale, claiming that this sensitive equipment might be compromised” (Ref. 1127).
“A number of the first six aircraft were delivered to Iran without the production number being officially listed and are generally referred to as UKIs – Unknown Iranians, some others were probably part of the 72-0266 to 720269 serials later acknowledged as delivered to Iran. Eventually, somewhere between 22 and 25 RF-4 airframes were delivered to Iran, the precise number is impossible to determine. As with the RF-5As, the RF-4Cs were also ‘A’ wired and could if necessary carry a nuclear weapon as a secondary role. Flown by mixed USAF and IIAF crews, the six RF-4Cs averaged two missions a month over the USSR from 1971 through to 1978. If they were shot down, the cover story was that the USAF crewmember was training the IIAF crewman and that they were on a navigation-training sortie, had got lost in bad weather and had inadvertently strayed over the border into the USSR. In actual fact it is understood that at least two of these ‘Iranian’ RF-4Cs were shot down inside the USSR by Soviet fighters, the first in 1973 and the second in 1976” (Ref. 1139).
“The final 11 RF-4Es destined for Iran were cancelled in February of 1979 for political reasons after the fall of the Shah” (Ref. 1138).
“In further pursuit of the Shah's ambitious goals, the government of Iran ordered 208 F-4Es from McDonnell during the early and mid-1970s. The first examples were delivered in March of 1971. A total of 177 F-4Es were delivered to the Imperial Iranian Air Force between the years 1971 and 1979. However, in 1979, the growing unrest in Iran forced the Shah to flee his country and go into exile, and a fanatical Islamic fundamentalist revolution took over the government. The new Islamic Republic of Iran immediately began to assume an anti-Western stance, and on February 28, 1979, the US government placed an embargo on further arms deliveries to Iran. The remaining 31 F-4Es on the contract were never delivered.
The Iranian air force never fully recovered from the effects of the 1979 revolution. At the beginning of the war, pilots were in short supply and flying proficiency was markedly lower than before the revolution. U.S. technicians who left Iran during the days preceding the fall of the Shah succeeded in erasing inventory records, ripping avionics packages out of F-14 aircraft, and destroying caches of repair parts at bases around Iran” (Ref. 1139).
“It was quietly agreed that Maj Shokouhnia and Col Saunders would be returned to Iran in exchange for a cartridge from a Soviet reconnaissance satellite that had accidentally landed in Iran. Both Maj Shokouhnia and Col Saunders were decorated for their exploit. It is believed that Maj Shokouhnia, left Iran during the revolution in 1979, but later returned and was executed in 1980. Col Saunders returned to more normal duties and has never spoken officially about his activities in Iran during this period. In response to these overflights, the USSR began overflying Iran with the MiG-25RBSh and various attempts were made to intercept the aircraft with the IIAF F-4D and F-4E. Apparently, sometime in 1976, one IIAF F-4E eventually managed to hit a MiG-25RBSh, but it made it back over the border into Russia before it crashed. The loss of the second RF-4C over Russia later in 1976 may well have been in response to this incident. The arrival of the IIAF F-14 Tomcat put an end to the overflights of Iran by the MiG-25RBSh, particularly after one had been intercepted over the Caspian Sea in Oct 1978 by two IIAF F-14s, who then maintained a radar lock-on to the MiG-25 for over a minute, no doubt giving the MiG-25 pilot something to think about.
At present that is all that is known about Operation Dark Gene, but hopefully as time goes on more details will emerge of the project in general and about the loss of the two RF-5As and the second IIAF RF-4C in 1978 in particular limit” (Ref. 1139).
“Aircraft equipped with IBEX sub-systems are understood to have had 13 operator positions, an ELINT sub-system capable of detecting and classifying emitters, and an oblique and vertical camera subsystem for surveillance photography. The conversion involved extensive structural modification and reinforcement, including the installation of a range of antennas on the aircraft’s wings and fuselage, a retractable direction-finding array under the belly, a new INS, modified power and cabin-environment systems, and special enlarged pods under the outboards of their outer engines. Hercules of the IBEX project carried oblique long focal length cameras to photograph Soviet radar transmitters from high altitudes, as well as equipment for monitoring and recording radio and radar signals. According to unconfirmed reports, some parts of the IBEX-equipment were built into at least two IIAA (Army Aviation) Aero Commander-560s. Note that both types - the C-130 and Aero Commander-560 - are known to have been used extensively for flying recce sorties along and possibly beyond the Soviet borders, since the early 1960s.
Aside from tracking Soviet missile testing, the Iranian government used the IBEX system to detect/locate, track and identify, and also characterize radar signals originating in most of neighboring countries, particularly Iraq. Prior to Rockwell getting that contract, an Israeli project proposal had been rejected by the IIAF as "insufficiently advanced". Nevertheless, after the installation of IBEX in Iran, a rumour surfaced that the Shah was not particularly pleased with "malfunctioning equipment“, which forced Rockwell to call the CIA for direct help. Additionally, at a very early stage, the project caused great concerns in Washington and elsewhere, because Rockwell employed some ex-NSA specialists to work alongside Iranian trainees, some of whom supposedly showed signs of mental disorder after working for some time with the equipment in the USA.
It remains unclear how the problems with the IBEX were solved, however, the system became operational and all four IBEX C-130H (nicknamed "Khofaash" or Bat whilst in Iranian service) were continuously flown along the Soviet border. Together with the five ground stations, they became part of the IIAF’s Electronic Reconnaissance Wing, under command of Lt. Gen. Abdollah Assrejadid. The rest of this unit seems to have been composed of two squadrons equipped with RF-4Es and RF-5As, respectively” (Ref. 1139).
“All the Khofaashs and the single Boeing 707 were normally stationed at Mehrabad AB, but there were prominent "forward bases" established at Tabriz and Hamedan, and possibly at other places like Shiraz and Zahedan as well. Although it is certain that dozens of operational missions were flown, details about only one are known: it occurred in October 1978, when a single Boeing 707 escorting two F-14s in an intercept of a Soviet MiG-25R over the Caspian Sea. This engagement was tracked from an immense range (over 200km) without any problems - and the CIA crews, as well as few USN people permitted to see some of result, were highly pleased with intelligence gathered.
The overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1978 -1979 and the creation of an anti-USA, hard-line Islamic Republic led by Ayatollah Khomeini, quickly brought an end to both projects. What became of the sites is unknown, but given the contingency plans already in place, I imagine both sites, in particular the equipment, were totally destroyed before the personnel were evacuated, probably to Turkey. I presume the planes involved remained part of the new IIAF, but apart from the single DHC-4 Caribou in the IIAF Museum at Mehrabad, Tehran, nothing is known about about their eventual fate. From what has been pieced together to date, it would appear that both projects were a success and, had they continued, they would have more than justified the risk and expense involved” (Ref. 1139).
“The only survivor of Project Ibex still flying is the single Iranian ELINT Boeing 707-3J9C (ex 5-8316, c/n 20834) shown here. The aircraft is believed to have been modified in 1975 by E-Systems Greenville Division from its original tanker/transport configuration. After conversion the aircraft was understood to have been equipped with 13 operator positions, an ELINT sub-system capable of detecting and classifying emitters, together with oblique and vertical cameras mounted behind a sliding door under the forward fuselage - the ELINT receivers were mounted in the wing root fairing. During its participation in Project Ibex the aircraft would have flown at high level close to the border with the Soviet Union gathering data on surveillance radars and air defense systems, looking for potential 'holes' that could be exploited by B-52s in the event of WW3.
The aircraft is currently assigned to the 1st Tactical Air Base, Tehran-Mehrabad International Airport. No titles are visible on the aircraft and it is assumed that it is still used to gather ELINT, however, it's not known whether the receiver systems have been continually updated. Although the Iranians like to believe that their aerospace and electronic capabilities are quite advanced, in reality they lag some way behind the West, so unless they have managed to procure or more likely reverse engineer a relatively current ELINT system, its current capability would be fairly limited” (Ref. 1139).
“The clerics purged a large part of the conventional military structure after the 1979 revolution leaving the military broken and barely able to defend Iran from the initial Iraqi ground invasion in 1980. After Khomeini seized power on 11 February 1979, the revolutionary regime regarded the Air Force as a waste of money that rightfully belonged to the mostazafin (poor oppressed masses). One of the new government's first acts was a purge of the armed forces, particularly the officer corps, which was (probably correctly) thought to be a hotbed of monarchist sentiment.
The Air Force, where virtually the entire fighting element - the combat pilots - was composed of officers, was especially hard hit. To make matters worse, Iran's best combat pilots had been trained in the United States and Israel, making them particularly suspect.
At its peak the Imperial Iranian Air Force, that of the Shah, had more than 450 modern combat aircraft, including then state of the art F-14A Tomcat fighters and about 5,000 well-trained pilots. On the eve of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 the Air Force, numbering close to 100,000 personnel, was by far the most advanced of the three Iranian military services and among the most impressive air forces in the developing world” (Ref. 1127).
“The senior command echelon of the IIAF had been decapitated in 1979 and early 1980 by arrests, imprisonments, executions, purges, and forced exiles” (Ref. 1127).
“A failed coup that originated on Shahrokhi Air Base in Hamadan in June 1980 brought about another sweeping purge. Many IIAF personnel were shot or jailed for suspected or real complicity in the coup attempt, and the purge of personnel whose ultimate loyalty was suspect continued at a faster pace.
The result of these actions was an Iranian air force which faced considerable problems maintaining its planes and combat capabilities. Iran husbanded the few air assets it had for strategic missions at the expense of tactical and operational fires.
While suffering from poor maintenance and lack of spare parts, the Iranian Air Force was able to launch a surprising counterattack just days after Iraqi preemptive strikes on Iranian air fields. They also launched a major airlift using Boeing 747, 707, and C-130 aircraft to move conventional forces to the front.
A total of 14 air bases were operational: Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, Bushehr, Chan Bahar, Dezful, Doshan Tapeh (Tehran), Ghaleh Morghi (Tehran), Hamadan, Isfahan, Mashhad, Mehrabad (Tehran), Shiraz, Tabriz and Zahedan. Soviet and Chinese-made aircraft, obtained following the Iranian Revolution were distributed throughout the country to fulfill mission roles of ground attack, transport, training and interception.
Bandar Abbas, Bushehr, Dezful, Hamadan, Tabriz and Mehrabad became the centers for ground attack squadrons. Shiraz was the home of the interceptor squadron. It also provided training along with, Mehrabad, Doshan Tapeh and Isfahan. Shiraz also housed the transport squadron.
Air Force headquarters was located at Doshan Tapeh Air Base, near Tehran. Iran's largest air base, Mehrabad, outside Tehran, was also the country's major civil airport. Other major operational air bases were at Tabriz, Bandar-e Abbas, Hamadan (Shahroki Air Base), Dezful (Vahdati Air Base), Shiraz, and Bushehr” (Ref. 1127).
“By the time that the Shah was forced to flee, Iran had 188 operational Phantoms. However, the arms embargo against Iran imposed by the West caused a severe spare parts and maintenance problem. Even the best-equipped units were often poorly trained and could not operate without Western contractor support” (Ref. 1138).
“The political upheavals caused by the fundamentalist revolution made the situation much worse, with many pilots and maintenance personnel following the Shah into exile. As a result, by 1980 the Islamic Republic Iranian Air Force (IRIAF) was only a shadow of its former self, and when Iraq attacked Iran in September of 1980, only 40 percent of the Iranian Phantom fleet was operational” (Ref. 1138).
Iran History & Air Arm
The Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) bases: (As of Late 1979) - (Ref. 19)
1st Tactical Air Base, Tehran (Mehrabad)
11Th. Tactical Fighter Squadron (T.F.SQ.) F-4E
2nd Tactical Air Base, Tabriz 21st. Tactical Fighter Squadron (T.F.SQ.) F-5E
3rd Tactical Air Base, Hamadan (Shahrokhi)
31st. Tactical Fighter Squadron (T.F.SQ.) F-4E
4th Tactical Air Base, Dezfull (Vahdati)
41st. Tactical Fighter Squadron (T.F.SQ.) F-5E
5th Tactical Air Base, Agha Jari (Omidieh)
51st. Tactical Fighter Squadron (T.F.SQ.) F-5E
6th Tactical Air Base, Bushehr
61st. Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (T.F.T.SQ.) F-4E
7th Tactical Air Base, Shiraz
71st. Tactical Fighter Squadron (T.F.SQ.) F-4E
8th Tactical Air Base, Isfahan ( Khatami )
81st. Tactical Fighter Squadron (T.F.SQ.) F-14
9th Tactical Air Base, Bandar Abbas
91st. Tactical Fighter Squadron (T.F.SQ.) F-4E
10th Tactical Air Base, Chabahar
101st. Tactical Fighter Squadron (T.F.SQ.) F-5E
Other Air Bases
Tehran: Doshan Tapeh Air Base - (Air force headquarters and the IIAF`s training facility).
Tehran: Galeh Morghi Air Base
Tehran: Ghasreh Firuzeh Air Base - (Air force Depot)
Mashhad: Air Base” (Ref. 22).
There was always one Squadron of F-5 or F-4 in Mashhad.
**** Each and every Air Base had a Search and Rescue Squadron Plus a support squadron equipped with F-33 Bonanza Aircraft” (Ref. 19). http://www.iiaf.net/history/tactair.html
IIAF F-4 Phantom serial Numbers:
67-14869/14876 McDonnell F- 4D-35-MC Phantom; 67-14877/14884 McDonnell F- 4D-36-MC Phantom; 68-6904/6911 McDonnell F- 4D-37-MC Phantom; 68-6912/6919 McDonnell F- 4D-38-MC Phantom; 69-7711/7726 McDonnell F- 4E-46-MC Phantom; 69-7727/7742 McDonnell F- 4E-47-MC Phantom; 71-1094/1101 McDonnell F- 4E-51-MC Phantom; 71-1102/1115 McDonnell F- 4E-52-MC Phantom; 71-1116/1129 McDonnell F- 4E-53-MC Phantom; 71-1130/1142 McDonnell F- 4E-54-MC Phantom; 71-1143/1152 McDonnell F- 4E-55-MC Phantom; 71-1153/1166 McDonnell F- 4E-56-MC Phantom; 72-0266/0269 McDonnell RF- 4E-48-MC Phantom; 73-1519/1534 McDonnell F- 4E-57-MC Phantom; 73-1535/1549 McDonnell F- 4E-58-MC Phantom; 73-1550/1554 McDonnell F- 4E-59-MC Phantom; 74-1725/1728 McDonnell RF- 4E-61-MC Phantom; and 74-1729/1736 McDonnell RF- 4E-62-MC Phantom’s” (Ref. 19). http://www.iiaf.net/aircraft/jetfighters/F4/f4.html
Specification for Mc Donnell Douglas F-4 PHANTOM II
Type: multi-role fighter
Performance: combat radius 786 miles; top speed 1585 mph; ceiling 62000 feet Power plant: two General Electric J79-GE-17A turbojets rated at 11810 lbs thrust each dry; 17900 with afterburner
Armament: one M61 20mm cannon w/ 640 rds, maximum ordnance 16000 lbs, including bombs, missiles, AIM-7Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder, Maverick and AAMs” (Ref. 19).
Because of the Iranian revolution in 1979, the U. S. canceled orders by the Iran government on 160 F-16s; 75-0222/0257 McDonnell F- 4E-63-MC Phantom’s; 78-0751/0754 McDonnell RF- 4E Phantom’s; 78-0788 McDonnell RF- 4E Phantoms’ and 8-0854/0864 McDonnell RF- 4E” (Ref. 19).
IIAF had about 500 combat aircraft in: (Ref. 22)
· 10 fighter bomber squadrons
· 10 fighter-ground attack squadrons
· 4 fighter squadrons
· 1 reconnaissance squadron
· 1 air tanker squadron
· 4 medium transoprt squadrons
· 4 light transoprt squadrons
· 3 SAM battalions
· 80 Grumman F-14A (Tomcat) Fighter
· 32 McDonnel Douglas F-4D (Phantom II) Fighter/Bomber
· 177 McDonnel Douglas F-4E (Phantom II) Fighter/Bomber
· 16 McDonnel Douglas RF-4E (Phantom II) Reconnaissance
· 12 Northrop F-5A (Tiger) Fighter
· 141 Northrop F-5E (Tiger II) Fighter
· 28 Northrop F-5B/F (Tiger II) Trainer
· 5 Northrop RF-5F (Tiger II) Reconnaissance
· 10 Beech F-33A (Bonaza) Trainer
· 39 Beech F-33C (Bonaza) Trainer
· 25 Lockheed T-33A (Shooting Star) Trainer
· 6 Lockheed P-3F (Orion) Maritime Patrol
· 15 Lockheed C-130E (Hercules) Cargo/Transport
· 49 Lockheed C-130H (Hercules) Cargo/Transport
· 15 Boeing 707-320C Tanker/Cargo/Transport
· 6 Boeing 747 Tanker/Cargo/Transport
· 13 Fokker F-27-400M (Troopship) Cargo/Transport
· 5 Fokker F-27-600 (Friendship) Cargo/Transport
· 4 Fokker F-28 V.I.P/Transport
· 3 Rockwell Aero Commander 690A Utility Aircraft
· 4 Dassault Falcon 20 V.I.P/Utility Aircraft
· 2 Cessna 310 Utility Aircraft
· 12 Cessna 337 Utility Aircraft
· 2 Lockheed JetStar Cargo/Transport
· 10 Kaman HH-43F (Huskie)
· 45 Agusta-Bell AB-205
· 68 Agusta-Bell AB-206A (JetRanger)
· 5 Agusta-Bell AB-212
· 39 Bell 214C
· 4 Agusta-Boeing Vertol CH-47C (Chinook)
· 16 Super Frelon
· 2 Agusta-Sikorsky AS-61A4
· AIM-54A Phoenix - (AAM) – 424
· AIM-9L Sidewinder - (AAM) - 1666
· AIM-7E Sparrow - (AAM) - 948
· AGM-65A Maverick - (ASM) - 2500 OR 216
· Condor (ASM) – X
· AS 12 (ASM) – X
· 160 F-16A (Light fighter/strike)
· 7 E-3A AWACS (Airborne warning and control ships)
· 160 F-16A (Light f7 E-3A AWACS (Airborne warning and control ships)
· AIM-9L Sidewinder (AAM)” (Ref. 22).
“The Iran-Iraq war began on September 22, 1980 with an Iraqi air attack on six Iranian air bases and four Iranian army bases. It was followed by an Iraqi land attack at four points along a 700-kilometer front. Before the war ended in 1988, somewhere between 500,000 and a million people were dead, between 1 and 2 million people were injured, and there were two to three million refugees. Although little-covered in the Western media, the war was a human tragedy on a massive scale.
Air power did not play a dominant role in the Iran-Iraq war, because both sides were unable to use their air forces very effectively. At first, IRIAF Phantoms took part in deep penetration raids against targets in and around Baghdad and supported ground operations at the front. Fighter-vs-fighter combat was rather rare throughout the entire course of the Iran-Iraq war” (Ref. 1138).
“When the Iran-Iraq War started in 1980, Iran's F-14s, equipped with Phoenix missiles, capable of identifying and destroying six targets simultaneously from a range of 80 kilometers or more, inflicted heavy casualties on the Iraqi air force, which was forced to disperse its aircraft to Jordan and Oman.
The capability of the F-14s and F-4s was enhanced by the earlier acquisition of a squadron of Boeing 707 tankers, thereby extending their combat radius to 2,500 kilometers with in-flight refueling” (Ref. 1128).
“Iranian F-14 Tomcats were also used like miniature AWACS, reporting Iraqi fighter operations to Iranian air defense commanders with their powerful radars. In response, Iraqi Mirage F-1EQ fighters flew high-speed, low-altitude profiles, well below the Tomcat's radar limits. The F-1EQ would pop up directly beneath the Tomcat's orbit, briefly illuminate the F-14 with its radar, and fire one or two air-to-air missiles at it. Iran lost several Tomcats to these tactics.
Iran began the war with HAWK surface-to-air missile defenses, though these were largely for the defense of fixed military facilities. Iran's doctrine emphasized active air defense using aircraft like the F-14. Iran failed to use its HAWKs effectively during the war, failing even to mount an effective point defense of key oil facilities. This may have been affected by the general disruption in the military establishment following the Shah's fall. There were only a few confirmed Iranian HAWK kills of Iraqi aircraft.
The Iraqi Air Force's first real strategic bombing campaign was the so-called war of the cities, which aimed at breaking civilian morale and disrupting military targets” (Ref. 1128).
“During the first phase of the war, Iranian aircraft had the fuel and the endurance to win most of these aerial encounters, either by killing with their first shot of an AIM-9 or else by forcing Iraqi fighters to withdraw. However, at this stage in the war the infrared homing missiles used by the fighters of both sides were generally ineffective in anything other than tail-chase firings at medium to high altitudes. In addition, most of the time, the APQ-120 radar of the Iranian F-4E Phantoms was inoperable because of the lack of spare parts caused by the arms embargo, which meant that the Sparrow missile could not be fired.
Initially, Iranian pilots had the edge in training and experience, but as the war dragged on, this edge was gradually lost because of the repeated purges within the ranks of the Iranian military which removed experienced officers and pilots who were suspected of disloyalty to the Islamic fundamentalist regime or those with close ties or sympathies with the West. Losses during the first 9 months of the Iran-Iraq war were estimated to be 60 Phantoms, with many more being out of action due to cannibalization or the lack of spare parts” (Ref. 1138).
“Since 1980 air bases at Ahvaz, Esfahan (Khatami Air Base), and Bandar Beheshti had also become operational. The Air Force's primary maintenance facility was located at Mehrabad Air Base.
The nearby Iran Aircraft Industries, in addition to providing main overhaul backup for the maintenance unit, was active in manufacturing spare parts” (Ref. 1128).
“The Iranian Air Force, equipped with Maverick missiles, proved critical during the initial defense by attacking Iraqi ground forces. The Iranian air force operated aggressively at the beginning of the war, providing both close air support and battlefield interdiction in support of Iranian ground forces. An example of this level of support occurred on October 3, 1981 when Iranian planes hit a large Iraqi armor formation massing in central Khuzistan.
Iran also made effective use of attack helicopters. Helicopters were the primary Iranian anti-armor system, and Iran scoured the international arms market for TOW missiles for its helicopter gunships. As the war progressed, Iran increasingly relied on army aviation to support ground operations, while the air force concentrated on strategic countervalue targets” (Ref. 1128).
1982 to 1986
“The effects of the arms embargo and the shortage of spare parts caused the number of Phantoms which were available for combat steadily to decrease, and at the beginning of 1983, only 12 to 35 Phantoms could be put into the air at any given time. As Iranian capabilities declined, Iraqi capabilities gradually improved.
Alter 1982, Iraq managed to improve its training and was able to acquire newer and better arms from French manufacturers, especially the Dassault Breguet Super Etendard and the Mirage F-1. The Mirage F-1 was capable of firing the Matra R-550 Magic air-to-air missile, which had a 140-degree attack hemisphere, a head-on attack capability, high-g launch and maneuver capability, and a 0.23 to 10-km range. The Magic could also be launched from the MiG-21, and proved to be far superior than the standard Soviet-supplied infrared homer, the Atoll. Mirage F-1s were reported to have shot down several Iranian aircraft with Magic missiles and as having scored kills even at low altitudes. After 1982, Iraq generally had the edge in most air-to-air encounters that took place, with Iran losing most of the few air-to-air encounters that took place after 1983 unless it used carefully-planned ambushes against Iraqi planes that were flying predictable routes.
On June 5, 1984, two Iranian F-4Es were intercepted by two Saudi Arabian F-15C Eagles when they appeared to threaten Saudi oil facilities, and one of the F-4Es was shot down. This was the only time when one McDonnell product shot down another” (Ref. 1138).
“Iran was only able to keep its F-4s flying by scrounging spare parts and replacements from whatever source it could. Israel secretly delivered Phantom spare parts to Iran, presumably thinking that by doing this it would help to keep Iraq occupied. There were reports that Israel supplied critical spare parts for the Phantom's APQ-120 radar, which made it possible to fire the Sparrow semiactive radar-homing missile. In addition, Iran was able to purchase some arms supplies by buying them on the world market, either legally or illegally. In August 31, 1984, an Iranian F-4 pilot defected with his aircraft to Saudi Arabia, and upon investigation his aircraft was found to have components that came from Israel and several NATO countries” (Ref. 1138).
“The Iranians found it extremely difficult to keep their Phantom fleet operational all throughout the Iran-Iraq war. The Phantom is a very complex, maintenance-intensive aircraft, requiring 135 man-hours of maintenance in the shop for each hour in the air. The lack of spare parts caused by the arms embargo plus the general lack of adequate numbers of trained maintenance personnel made things even worse. A defecting Iranian colonel claimed that Iran's F-4 force was down to only 20 flyable aircraft by the end of 1986, with no RF-4Es still being operational.
Iraq's two efforts early in 1985, from 14 March to 7 April 1985 and 25 May to 15 June 1985, were reportedly very effective. Opposition from the Iranian Air Force was negligible to nonexistent, as the Iraqis hit air bases and military and industrial targets all over Iran (in Tabriz, Urmia, Rasht, Bakhteran, Hamadan, Tehran, Isfahan, Dezful, Ahvaz, Kharg, Bushehr, and Shiraz). Even Iraq's lumbering old Tu-16 bombers were getting through, presumably with MiG-25 and Mirage F-1 escorts, as the Iraqis hit targets as far away as Kashan, more than 360 miles from their own bases. According to local residents, conditions in Tehran during the Iraqi bombings were very difficult.
Fires blazed out of control as firefighters struggled with low pressure from broken water mains. Tehran's hospitals overflowed with casualties. The daily toll was reckoned "in the hundreds," and there were frequent emergency radio appeals for blood donors” (Ref. 1127).
“Although Phantom availability remained quite low all throughout the remainder of the Iran-Iraq war, as late as January of 1988, the IRIAF was still able to mount rocket attacks during the tanker war in the Gulf” (Ref. 1138).
“In my view, the U.S. under Ronald Regan’s administration worked with Iran even though Iran had declared War with the U.S. in 1980 after Operation Eagle Claw, originating the sale of arms supplied to Iran” (Ref. 1068 & 1080):
· August 20, 1985. 96 TOW anti-tank missiles
· September 14, 1985. 408 more TOWs
· November 24, 1985. 18 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles
· February 17, 1986. 500 TOWs
· February 27, 1986. 500 TOWs
· May 24, 1986. 508 TOWs, 240 Hawk spare parts
· August 4, 1986. More Hawk spares
October 28, 1986. 500 TOWs Iran/contra: The Underlying Facts
The Contras - Part I – Ref. 1068
“Additional shipments of miscellaneous weapons and parts to Iran during the Iran-Contra Affair from 1985 to 1986, two years before the war ends, the IRIAF improved its air campaign against Iraq.
“According to the Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair issued in November 1987, the sale of U.S. arms to Iran through Israel began in the summer of 1985, after receiving the approval of President Reagan. The report shows that Israel's involvement was stimulated by separate overtures in 1985 from Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar and National Security Council (NSC) consultant Michael Ledeen, the latter working for National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane. When Ledeen asked Prime Minister Shimon Peres for assistance, the Israeli leader agreed to sell weapons to Iran at America's behest, providing the sale had high-level U.S. approval.
“Before the Israelis would participate, says the report, they demanded "a clear, express and binding consent by the U.S. Government." McFarlane told the Congressional committee he first received President Reagan's approval in July 1985.
In August, Reagan again orally authorized the first sale of weapons to Iran, over the objections of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz. Because of that deal, Rev. Benjamin Weir, held captive in Lebanon for 16 months, was released.
When a shipment of HAWK missiles was proposed in November of that year, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin again demanded specific U.S. approval. According to McFarlane, the President agreed.
By December 1985, the President had decided future sales to the Iranians would come directly from U.S. supplies.
According to the committees' report, NSC aide Lt. Col. Oliver North first used money from the Iran operation to fund the Nicaraguan resistance in November 1985. He later testified, however, that the diversion of funds to the Contras was proposed to him by Ghorbanifar during a meeting in January 1986” (Ref. 1058 - The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise; 1064 - United States History and 1065 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
“Saudi billionaire oil and arms trader Adnan Khashoggi said in an interview on ABCTV on December 11, 1986, that he advanced $1 million to help finance the first arms shipment in the Iran-Contra arms scandal and put up $4 million for the second shipment. According to the President's special review board chaired by former Sen. John Tower, a foreign official (reportedly Saudi King Fahd) donated $1 million to $2 million monthly from July 1984 to April 1985 for covert financing for the Contras. Saudi Arabia denied aiding the Nicaraguan rebels, but the New York Times reported the contribution may have been part of a 1981 secret agreement between Riyadh and Washington "to aid anticommunist resistance groups around the sophisticated American AWACS radar planes, according to United States officials and others familiar with the deal."
The Joint House-Senate Committee praised the Israeli government for providing detailed chronologies of events based on relevant documents and interviews with key participants in the operation. Its report also corroborated the conclusion of the Tower Commission: "U.S. decision makers made their own decisions and must bear responsibility for the consequences"” (Ref. 1058 - The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise; 1064 - United States History and 1065 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
“A defecting Iranian colonel claimed that Iran's F-4 force was down to only 20 flyable aircraft by the end of 1986, with no RF-4Es still being operational” (Ref. 1127).
“By 1986 desertions and depletions led to a reorganization of the Air Force into 8 squadrons again with fighter and fighter-bomber capabilities and 1 reconnaissance squadron. This reduced force was supported by 2 joint tanker-transport squadrons and 5 light transport squadrons. Some 76 helicopters and 5 surface-to-air missile (SAM) squadrons supplemented this capability” (Ref. 1127).
“Most of these arms consisted of TOW and Hawk missiles, but there are reports that spare parts for the Phantom's APQ-120 radar were also delivered. Israel was an important intermediary in these arms deliveries. The story finally leaked out into the media in November of 1986. It was later revealed that the money obtained in payment from Iran had been diverted to pay for arms supplied to the Contras in Nicaragua, in direct contravention of Congressional prohibition of such deliveries. The revelation of this arms deal in the media was a major source of embarrassment to the Reagan administration and caused a constitutional crisis. There is even a report that 23 ex-USAF F-4Es were secretly transferred to Iran in the mid 1980s via Paraguay” (Ref. 1138).
“The Air Force's 3 SAM battalions and 8 Improved HAWK battalions were reorganized in the mid-1980s (in a project involving more than 1,800 missiles) into 5 squadrons that also contained Rapiers and Tigercats of British origin. Washington's sale of HAWK spare parts and missiles in 1985 and 1986 may have enhanced this capability” (Ref. 1127).
“By 1987, the Air Force faced a new problem, one of an acute shortage of spare parts and replacement equipment. Perhaps 35 of the 190 Phantoms were serviceable in 1986. One F-4 had been shot down by Saudi F-15s, and two pilots had defected to Iraq with their F-4s in 1984. The number of F-5s dwindled from 166 to perhaps 45, and the F-14 Tomcats from 77 to perhaps 10. The latter were hardest hit because maintenance posed special difficulties after the United States embargo on military sales.
In the "Tanker War", Iran proved unable to protect Kharg Island and its other oil facilities from attack by the Iraqi air force. As a consequence, Iran responded by doing the only thing it could - mining the waters of the Persian Gulf and risking international ire by attacking neutral shipping. Reliable information on the Air Force after the Revolution was difficult to obtain, but it seemed clear that by 1987 a fairly large number of the existing fleet had been cannibalized for spare parts” (Ref. 1127).
“The Owj Industrial Complex was established 1987 to design and manufacture all kinds of aircraft. The benchmark chosen was Northrop F-5, with which the IRIAF has had considerable experience. The Azarakhsh (lightning) fighter was to be a nearly exact copy of the F-5E Tiger II. Externally it is distinguishable by a [barely visible] 17cm extension of the nose, accommodating a new radar incorporating Iranian parts and technology and reportedly based on a Russian design - Kopjo. It is clearly a proof-of-concept and reverse-engineering demonstrator rather than an operational aircraft” (Ref. 1128).
1988 to 1990
An IRIAF C-130 Hercules in 1988
“Although Phantom availability remained quite low all throughout the remainder of the Iran-Iraq war, as late as January of 1988, the IRIAF was still able to mount rocket attacks during the tanker war in the Gulf” (Ref. 1138):
“Iran's national will was decisively engaged by Iraqi missile attacks on Tehran and other large Iranian population centers during the "War of the Cities." The Iranian people were demoralized by repeated Iraqi missile attacks on their cities. As an illustration of this, more than one million people fled Tehran during the second "War of the Cities" in 1988” (Ref. 1127).
“The Iranians could not generate more than 30-60 sorties per day, whereas the number of sorties that Iraq could mount steadily increased year after year, reaching a peak as high as 600 in 1986-88” (Ref. 1138).
‘When the war ended in 1988, the IRIAF probably had only a dozen or less Phantoms that were still in good enough condition to fly. Estimates of the number of Phantoms that were operational with the IRIAF vary widely from 1981 to 1989. The following is a list of USAF serial numbers of Phantoms delivered to Iran. All of these aircraft were new builds, with none being diverted from USAF stocks” (Ref. 1138):
67-14869/14876 McDonnell F-4D-35-MC Phantom
67-14877/14884 McDonnell F-4D-36-MC Phantom
68-6904/6911 McDonnell F-4D-37-MC Phantom
68-6912/6919 McDonnell F-4D-38-MC Phantom
69-7711/7726 McDonnell F-4E-46-MC Phantom
69-7727/7742 McDonnell F-4E-47-MC Phantom
71-1094/1101 McDonnell F-4E-51-MC Phantom
71-1102/1115 McDonnell F-4E-52-MC Phantom
71-1116/1129 McDonnell F-4E-53-MC Phantom
71-1130/1142 McDonnell F-4E-54-MC Phantom
71-1143/1152 McDonnell F-4E-55-MC Phantom
71-1153/1166 McDonnell F-4E-56-MC Phantom
72-266/269 McDonnell RF-4E-48-MC Phantom
73-1519/1534 McDonnell F-4E-57-MC Phantom
73-1535/1549 McDonnell F-4E-58-MC Phantom
73-1550/1554 McDonnell F-4E-59-MC Phantom
74-1725/1728 McDonnell RF-4E-61-MC Phantom
74-1729/1736 McDonnell RF-4E-62-MC Phantom
75-222/257 McDonnell F-4E-63-MC Phantom
Order cancelled in 1979
78-751/754 McDonnell RF-4E Phantom
Order cancelled in 1979, planes reduced to components.
78-788 McDonnell RF-4E Phantom Order cancelled in 1979, plane reduced to components.
78-854/864 McDonnell RF-4E Phantom Order cancelled in 1979.
McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume II, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1990.
McDonnell F-4 Phantom: Spirit in the Skies. Airtime Publishing, 1992.
The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.
United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft Armament, Bill Gunston, Orion, 1988.
The Lessons of Modern War, Molume II: The Iran-Iraq War, Anthony H. Cordesman and Abraham R. Wagner, Westview Press, 1990.
Kian-Noush, IRIAF: 75th Anniversary, World Air Power Journal, Vol 39, 1999.
Boeing/McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II Current Operations, World AirPower Journal, Vol 40, Spring 2000.
Iran Air Force
Iran History & Air Arm
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