By Joseph Dempsey, Research Analyst, Military Balance Online
Following on from an initial delivery of Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft from Russia, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence announced a further delivery had been received on 1 July 2014. Although the source of this latest delivery of Su-25s has not been officially commented upon, it is the conclusion of IISS analysts that these latest examples originate from neighbouring Iran.
Iran has recently pledged military assistance to Iraq to help combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) insurgency. The extent of this offer and any current uptake by the Iraqi government has not been made public but the delivery of these aircraft may provide the first evidence of direct military aid.
Iran maintains a small fleet of Su-25 aircraft operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Ironically the majority of these aircraft are former Iraqi Air Force assets, with seven Su-25s having sought refuge in Iran during the First Gulf War. Contrary to Iraqi wishes, these aircraft were retained and later brought into Iranian service along with three additional Su-25UB combat-capable two-seat trainer variants procured from Russia.
The conclusion that these new aircraft are from Iran is based upon the following analysis of available open-source information:
Iranian Su-25s have been assigned a narrow range of six-digit serial numbers, all with the prefix ‘15-245x’, with the last two digits repeated on the aircraft nose. Noted serial numbers on operational aircraft include [15-24]51, 54, 55 and 56, with the Su-25UBs assigned 57, 58 and 59 respectively. Whilst the full serial numbers are not present, the three individual examples identified on a video posted by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence each feature two-digit numbers on their nose. Two are coded ‘51’ and ‘56’, whilst ‘58’ is visible on the sole Su-25UB, correlating with identified Iranian numbering.
The camouflage scheme visible on the three aircraft is also identical to that currently applied to Iranian Su-25s, a scheme not adopted by any other operators. Attempts to conceal original operator markings are also apparent, with evidence of key positions being painted over. This includes the location of Iranian roundels on the side of the air intakes along with a large proportion of the tail fin normally occupied by a full serial number, the Iranian flag and the IRGC insignia.
It is also noted that these aircraft are externally in much better condition relative to that of the recently delivered Russian Su-25s thought to be drawn from storage. In addition, those from Russia were disassembled and airlifted to Iraq, whereas these appear to have flown in, a premise supported by the addition of wing-mounted fuel tanks on each aircraft.
Although these aircraft were likely delivered to Iraq by Iranian pilots, it is unclear who will now be responsible for crewing and maintaining them. Given this recent apparent growth in their Su-25 inventory, it seems increasingly unlikely that Iraq retains the capacity to operate this type of aircraft in any significant number without some level of external support.
Whilst the presence of Iran-sourced aircraft in Iraq is clearly significant, the exact circumstances surrounding their presence and intended use remain unknown, as does the existence of any wider arrangement between the governments of these neighbouring countries to counter the ISIS threat.