Iran has seen growing deployments of American stealth fighters near its borders since 2019, including the reported deployment of two F-35A squadrons to the Gulf Region and the deployment of a single F-22 Raptor squadron to Qatar.
The presence of the F-35 in the region its set to grow considerably in future, with Israel currently fielding two squadrons and planning the deployment of at least 50 of the jets, while the UAE is also looking to acquire the fighters possibly to replace its ageing French built Mirage 2000 jets.
The U.S. Navy, too, is set to phase out its Harrier II and F-18E carrier based fighters for replacement with the F-35B and F-35C respectively, which will increasingly be deployed by American carrier groups to the Persian Gulf region.
The threat posed by Western stealth aircraft will only further grow later in the decade as the U.S. Air Force begins to operate the F-X sixth generation fighter and B-21 Raider stealth bomber – both of which are expected to see their first flights before 2030.
All this military aggression near its borders, Iran has been forced to improve its situational awareness in the air domain by acquiring Russian hardware, with the most prolific acquisition being the S-300PMU-2 long range air defense system which includes both missile launchers and powerful radars.
Less well known, but still very significant, is the Iranian deployment of the Rezonans-NE air defense system which has been successful not only in detecting but also in tracking F-35 fighter jets operating near the country’s borders.
Deputy CEO of the Rezonans research center, Alexander Stuchilin, stated to this effect on August 24th: “At the beginning of 2020 this radar identified U.S. F-35 planes and tracked them.
The radar’s personnel were transmitting information, including the routes of F-35 flights, in clear, thus confirming that it was reliably tracking the planes.
For this reason, the opponent did not commit any irreparable actions that might have caused a big war.
While the Rezonans-NE can track stealth fighters however, it remains uncertain whether it can share targeting data with Iran’s indigenous air defense systems and how well integrated the Iranian air defense network really is to make full use of the tracking data.
Stuchilin highlighted that the Rezonans-NE radar had been on round-the-clock combat duty in Iran for many years, with sales of such defensive weaponry not restricted by the UN arms embargo currently in place.
With the embargo set to expire in October, Iran is speculated to be planning acquisitions of a number of advanced systems to improve its air defense capabilities – including Chinese KJ-500 airborne early warning aircraft and J-10C fighters equipped with powerful AESA radars.
An acquisition of the more advanced S-400 air defense system, considered the best optimised in the world for neutralizing stealth aircraft at long ranges, is also reportedly under consideration.
Russian sources previously reported that F-35 fighters had been detected operating very near Iranian airspace following the assassination of the commander of Iran’s Quds Force Qasem Soleimani in a CIA drone strike, with the country’s defenses placed on high alert and subsequently accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian civilian airliner.
Over 3,000 F-35 fighters are expected to be produced in the coming two decades, the bulk of them for the U.S. Air Force where they will replace the Ageing F-16 Fighting Falcon, although whether their stealth capabilities will remain relevant in the face of fast improving radar technologies has been seriously questions by experts in a number of countries.
Military Watch Magazine / ABC Flash Point News 2020.