Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Loses Su-22 Strike Fighter in Accident: How Did it Get These Soviet Jets to Begin With?

An Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Su-22 strike fighter was reportedly lost in an accident on December 16, with the incident occurring in southern Fars province. The aircraft crashed near Lake Persian in the Kazerun district, with the pilot ejecting safely without injury. The Revolutionary Guard Corps operates a limited number of Su-22 strike fighters and Su-25 ground attack jets, although the bulk of its air power is formed by a drone fleet which includes a range of advanced stealth platforms such as the Shahed-191. The corps is responsible for overseas operations, including in the 2010s providing extensive support to Iraqi and Syrian government counterinsurgency efforts to prevent Turkish backed jihadist militias from gaining ground in both countries. The Su-22 is a re-designation of the Su-17 strike fighter modified for export, with the class having been widely deployed across the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in its hundreds until the 1990s when the Soviet Bloc’s disintegration resulted in its mass retirement. Many of Iran’s neighbours notably acquired the aircraft from the USSR, including Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan as well as Yemen more distantly.

While Iran itself never purchased Su-22s from the Soviet Union, the targeting of Iraqi airfields by the U.S. and allied forces during Operation Desert Storm led the Iraqi Air Force to divert many of its fighter units to fly to safety at Iranian bases – although its elite MiG-25 interceptors continued to perform air defence duties domestically. Iran continues to field a number of aircraft acquired through Iraq, including Mirage F1 fighters which form a composite air unit with U.S.-supplied F-5Es. Iran initially struggled to operate the Su-22, but reportedly benefitted from support from Syria and Libya which allowed it to overhaul the fighters and increase their operational capabilities. The first ten fighters with locally modernised avionics were delivered in July 2018, with these enhanced models benefitting from the ability to use a range of new guided weapons including new classes of air launched cruise missiles, as well as the ability to share data with drone units which could be particularly useful for the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Although the original Su-17 was revolutionary in the precision strike capabilities it introduced when it first entered service in 1970, remaining operators such as Vietnam and Poland are today moving to phase their own aircraft out of service. The extensively modernised airframes in Iranian service may well thus be the last fighters of the class to remain operational by the end of the decade.