War and decades of embargo have made the Iranian air force once in a “dying” situation.
The Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) took a lot of the power of the Iranian Air Force. The chaos and poor leadership of the new regime made the IRIAF never able to dominate the skies throughout the war. At the same time, the US embargo has caused the Iranian aircraft to lack parts, further limiting the IRIAF’s capabilities.
By 1993, five years after the Iran-Iraq War ended, the Iranian Air Force had been reduced to just 15,000 people, a quarter of 1976. Only 60 out of 225 F-4 Phantom IIs, and 60 out of 179 F-5s were still in service, the rest were either shot down, dropped by accident or removed for spare parts.
At that time only Iran’s F-14 squadron was still in good service, with 60 of the 77 aircraft still flying. The transport squadron was only 20 of the 56 C-130 Hercules. Iran had to rely on the Soviet Union. In 1990, Iran bought 20 Su-24 Fencer strike aircraft and 30 MiG-29 “Fulcrum” fighters from the Soviet Union.
The IRIAF also received 25 Chinese J-7 fighters – a replica of the MiG-21. They also received a small number of Iraqi Air Force aircraft, which flew to Iran during the 1991 Gulf War. But the new purchases and the number of Iraqi aircraft were not enough to cover the wartime damage.
Tehran’s hostility towards the West and its controversial nuclear program continue to make Iran a sanctioned country. According to Flight International, the core of the IRIAF remains the same as before, including 42 F-4 Phantom IIs, 24 F-5 fighters, 20 MiG-29s, 17 J-7s, 23 Su-24s, and nine Iraqi Mirage F-1s.
Despite their aging, IRIAF fighters were still deployed in the fight against ISIS. Iran’s F-14 fighters escorted Russian Air Force bombers, hitting targets in Syria. Iran’s F-5 Tigers, F-4 Phantom and Su-24 Fencers have also launched airstrikes against ISIS.
Due to their age, IRIAF fighter crashes occur frequently. In 2016 alone, an F-4, 1 J-7, 1 Su-24 and 1 MiG-29 crashed. If there is a confrontation with the US Air Force, these old fighters will be very easy to shoot down.