Call it an irony, an American-origin aircraft escorted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s presidential aircraft while it was on its way to Dubai.
Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has barely traveled since the Ukraine invasion, made a rare trip to the Middle Eastern region to reset ties. His first stop was in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Russian President was escorted by Russian Air Force Su-35 fighter jets where they landed at the commercial airport, forming a tight safety net around his aircraft. The Al-Dhafra Air Base, a significant US military installation in the area, is located less than 30 miles away.
In addition to serving as a show of power and possibly a sales ploy, the armed Su-35 escort was believed to be an indication of the suspicion that surrounds Putin’s overseas travels. As seen in the video that was published on social media, the four Su-35s were armed for the mission with R-77 and R-73 air-to-air missiles.
From the UAE, Putin took off for another important partner in the gulf: Saudi Arabia. Initial reports about this flight indicated that Su-35s also escorted Putin’s Il-96 to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. However, another video posted on social media gave more details.
On December 6, a video was posted online by some Middle-based military watchers suggesting that the Russian presidential aircraft Il-96PU jet was escorted by four Russian Su-35S Flankers accompanied by an Iran Islamic Air Force (IRIAF) fighter, which was subsequently identified as a US-made F-14 Tomcat.
Posting the video on Platform X, an independent OSINT group wrote: “A US Aircraft flown by the Iranian Air Force being used to Escort the Russian President on a Flight to Dubai, things continue to get more and more confusing.”
A U.S. Aircraft flown by the Iranian Air Force being used to Escort the Russian President on a Flight to Dubai, things continue to get more and more confusing. https://t.co/sPamrslyRu
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) December 7, 2023
Some other netizens called the flight ironic, given that both Russia and Iran are one of the biggest adversaries of the United States. However, the two countries have been strengthening defense ties with Iran, aiding Russia’s war against Ukraine by supplying suicide drones.
Although Iran is among the most significant adversaries of the US and its allies in the Middle East, it operates two US-origin aircraft – the F-14 Tomcat and the F-4 Phantom II since the 1970s. Iran is believed to be awaiting the delivery of the Russian Su-35 to replace these aging aircraft.
While the escort by Tomcat has been received with humor on social media, it is not uncommon for allies to provide an escort to each other on their overflight. President Putin has been, in general, very paranoid about taking international trips since February 2022.
His reservations became stronger when an arrest warrant was filed by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against him.
This is not the first time a Russian aircraft has been escorted by a Tomcat. In 2015, during their ninety-minute sorties (from Engels airbase and back, along the 6,500 kilometer-long corridor between Iraq and Iran and the Caspian Sea) against terrorist targets in Syria, Russian Air Force Tu-95 Bear bombers were escorted by IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-14 Tomcat interceptors while they flew in Iranian airspace.
The IRIAF is the lone operator of the Tomcat, an aircraft that Tehran has maintained airworthy over the years despite the embargo imposed following the 1979 Revolution. The US Navy retired its F-14s in September 2006.
The Iranians have not only maintained a number of F-14s in operational service, but they have also modernized them with indigenous avionics and weaponry, which should prolong the operational lifespan of the remaining Tomcats until 2030. Military experts have frequently expressed equal parts astonishment and skepticism at Iran’s capability to maintain these aircraft despite being placed under crippling sanctions.
Iran’s F-14 Tomcat
Iran signed a historic contract with the United States in 1976 to get the first of 80 F-14A Tomcats. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution severed intimate connections between Washington and Tehran, Tehran eventually acquired 79 of them.
The Tomcat was a tough opponent and a real air superiority fighter, equipped with the potent AWG-9 radar and the long-range AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missile, which could attack targets up to 100 miles away.
The Grumman Corporation produced the two-seat, twin-engine F-14 fighter for the US Navy between 1970 and 1992. It was created in the 1960s as the F-4 Phantom II’s replacement, with the aerodynamic and electronic capabilities to protect American aircraft carrier operations from Soviet aircraft and missiles.
With two Pratt & Whitney or General Electric turbofan engines producing 21,000 to 27,000 pounds of thrust each when burned thereafter, the vehicle might achieve speeds more than Mach 1, or twice the speed of sound, at sea level.
The aircraft is reportedly capable of guiding long-range missiles to six enemy aircraft while tracking up to 24 aircraft as far away as 195 miles (314 kilometers). Bombs intended to target surfaces may be concealed beneath the inner wings and fuselage, along with medium- and short-range missiles. The fuselage contained a 20-millimeter rotary gun for close-quarters dogfighting.
Although Iran benefited greatly from the US-origin fighter, which was genuinely state-of-the-art in its days, time has now taken its toll. In the following decades, Iran’s adversaries have amassed more sophisticated and contemporary aircraft.
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