Stealth Attack On Stealth Jets! Iran’s F-35 Ballistic Missile “Attack” Reveals Surround, Swarm & Smash Strategy

Iran recently “simulated” an attack on an Israeli air base operating F-35I fighters by firing its Emad and Qadr ballistic missiles. This represents a new equation in the dynamic of military balance between the two countries. 

Even without a conventional stealth fighter or a large functional air force, Iran’s wide array of ballistic, cruise missiles, and long-range drones offsets its weakness in the area.

A large landmass along with a series of underground bases allows strategic depth which helps launch attacks with total and complete tactical, operational surprise, in itself an unconventional stealth capability. 

This analysis examines possible Iranian and Israeli tactics and strategies where both sides maximize their respective military strengths. 

‘Stealth Without the Stealth Fighter’

Both a first and retaliatory strike by Iran would be similar to the stunning and wide-ranging October 7 attack by Hamas into Israeli cities and military bases. Iran has thus closely studied the way the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has fought. Needless to say, both Iran and Hamas also share a lot in their respective military doctrines. 

Minus a large, capable air force, Iran’s military possesses attributes of both a somewhat conventional military and unconventional characteristics. This is through control over non-state actors like militias in Iraq, Syria and links with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah – the latter if the need arises in a highly escalatory war. 

How Hezbollah has served as a formidable pressure point often upsetting Israeli calculations for a decisive victory in the current war with Hamas has been covered in a previous EurAsian Times analysis here

How Iran Would Strike Israel

Both Iran and Hamas share a traditional solidarity seen in the diplomatic backing from Tehran in the current war. Its foreign minister Amir Hossein Abdollahian also met the group’s political bureau Ismail Haniyeh on February 13. 

A clip from a news feature of the launch shows four to five truck-mounted road-mobile launchers rolling into position and firing the missiles. These trucks, appearing to be normal civilian carriers, would be difficult to identify as military targets from overhead satellite or drones. 

They can be moved suddenly and under total secrecy. Iranian commanders might incorporate additional deception by employing dummy or empty vehicles to confuse tracking. A longer version of the clip shows Iran also firing ballistic missiles from regular container ships that too would be hard to differentiate from civilian Marine traffic during war. 

In February 2023, Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri was quoted on the sidelines of the unveiling of the underground Oghab-44 (Eagle-44) base. “Any attack on Iran from our enemies, including Israel, will see a response from our many air force bases, including Eagle 44,” he said

The bases allow Iranian planes like the F-4 Phantom to remain completely undetected from prying satellites and take off without warning, hitting ground and naval targets. This tactical advantage of complete surprise, can be utilized by obsolete militaries like Iran, using third-generation fighters to achieve many strategic goals.  

Iran might thus simultaneously use its diverse ballistic missiles, drones, older Cold War-era US fighters and regional proxies around Israel in Syria and Lebanon in a coordinated strike from multiple directions on Israel. This is to make up for its weak airpower and offset Israel’s advantages with stealth Gen. 5 F-35 fighters.

F-35 Base Killing Ballistic Missiles

As for the Qadr and Emar ballistic missiles, they are specifically designed to target large bases, and in this case, particularly Israel’s Palmachim air base where its “F-35 jets are located,” as the Iranian officer tells the news presenter. 

The missiles have “enhanced explosive warheads” that destroyed a “simulated version” of the base. A thread by defense commentator Tal Hagin however said that Israel does not station F-35s at Palamchin but rather at Nevatim. 

The Qadr-1 is an improved version of the Shahab-3A, also known as Qadr-101 and Qadr-110. It was unveiled in 2007 and tested in 2015, clocking ranges between 1,600 to 1,950-km. The missiles’ conical nose and cylindrical shape suggests a lighter payload of a warhead around 750-kg. However, its reentry vehicle might have higher speeds, complicating interceptions by missile defense systems.

The Emad, introduced in 2015, is a Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) that can reach 1,700-km with a 750-kg warhead. It was billed as the first Iranian missile capable of being guided and controlled until it hits its target. Essentially a modified reentry vehicle, intended to be mounted on a Shahab-3 or Qadr missile, offering increased stability and maneuverability for improved accuracy. 

Put differently, Iran has presented weapons and tactics that preempt the Israeli F-35 on the ground before it takes off – or at least significantly damages the base to put it out of action for a long time. Iran can exploit the F-35’s temporary absence from the battlespace to achieve a lot of tactical or strategic goals. 

While the weapons (the ballistic missiles) themselves are not stealth, their target is stealth killing and manner of operation equally stealthy. They explain Iran’s choice to be a drone and missile power, with a diverse stockpile second only to China.  

F-35 - File Image
F-35 – File Image

Israeli Calculations

However, Tel Aviv too knows Tehran shares certain credible military advantages and is possibly giving its F-35 pilots some live-fire training, beside honing tactics and procedures by using the F-35I in the war against Hamas. US officials have stated in deep background that Israel is using the jet in the war. 

The F-35I will be particularly handy in a war with Iran. Israel would need to preemptively destroy its strategic targets like missile launch facilities, large military bases or nuclear facilities. These missions would require evading Iran’s formidable air defenses by using its advanced Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) sensors in possibly Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD/DEAD) that would precede any strike. 

Here too, it is likely the F-35s might not be used singularly. They could be paired with a larger fighter like the F-15 acting as a ‘missile truck’ – releasing radar killing or other air-to-ground missiles based on information received from the F-35 via a data link. The F-35 is too valuable to be flown close to or directly above Iranian skies. 

Iran already claims its Bavar-373 is comparable to Russia’s S-400 air defense system and therefore poses a similar threat to the F-35, as the US maintains the Russian platform does.