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Iran: Role of the Air Force
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > The Iran-Iraq War > Role of the Air Force

ROLE OF THE AIR FORCE


Despite Iraqi success in causing major damage to exposed Iranian ammunition and fuel dumps in the early days of the war, the Iranian air force prevailed initially in the air war. One reason was that Iranian airplanes could carry two or three times more bombs or rockets than their Iraqi counterparts. Moreover, Iranian pilots demonstrated considerable expertise. For example, the Iranian air force attacked Baghdad and key Iraqi air bases as early as the first few weeks of the war, seeking to destroy supply and support systems. The attack on Iraq's oil field complex and air base at Al Walid, the base for T-22 and Il-28 bombers, was a well-coordinated assault. The targets were more than 800 kilometers from Iran's closest air base at Urumiyeh, so the F-4s had to refuel in midair for the mission. Iran's air force relied on F-4s and F-5s for assaults and a few F-14s for reconnaissance. Although Iran used its Maverick missiles effectively against ground targets, lack of airplane spare parts forced Iran to substitute helicopters for close air support. Helicopters served not only as gunships and troop carriers but also as emergency supply transports. In the mountainous area near Mehran, helicopters proved advantageous in finding and destroying targets and maneuvering against antiaircraft guns or man-portable missiles. During Operation Karbala Five and Operation Karbala Six, the Iranians reportedly engaged in large-scale helicopter-borne operations on the southern and central fronts, respectively. Chinooks and smaller Bell helicopters, such as the Bell 214A, were escorted by Sea Cobra choppers.

In confronting the Iraqi air defense, Iran soon discovered that a low-flying group of two, three, or four F-4s could hit targets almost anywhere in Iraq. Iranian pilots overcame Iraqi SA-2 and SA-3 antiaircraft missiles, using American tactics developed in Vietnam; they were less successful against Iraqi SA-6s. Iran's Western-made air defense system seemed more effective than Iraq's Soviet-made counterpart. Nevertheless, Iran experienced difficulty in operating and maintaining Hawk, Rapier, and Tigercat missiles and instead used antiaircraft guns and man-portable missiles.

As the war continued, however, Iran was increasingly short of spare parts for damaged airplanes and had lost a large number of airplanes in combat. As a result, by late 1987 Iran had become less able to mount an effective defense against the resupplied Iraqi air force, let alone stage aerial counterattacks.

Data as of December 1987




Last Updated: December 1987


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iran was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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