The Threat from Iranian
Air and Air Defense Forces
Iran's air force has gone through a decade and a half of revolution and war, and its current operational strength is as hard to estimate as the operational strength of Iran's ground forces. While Iran had 85,000 men and 447 combat aircraft in its air force at the time the Shah fell from power, it steadily lost air strength from 1980 to 1988. As Chart Forty-Two shows, the air force suffered combat losses in the Iran-Iraq War and many aircraft gradually ceased to be operational once Iran was cut off from its US suppliers. In addition, the Iranian Air Force has lacked effective foreign technical support for fifteen years. The air force was also purged of some of the pilots, technical personnel, and other officers that served under the Shah, during the first few years of the Khomeini regime. 378
Iran's air strength has improved significantly, however, since 1988. By 1996, the Iranian Air Force and air defense force have built themselves back to a total inventory of around 260-300 combat aircraft. The Air Force also had an independent surface-to-surface missile brigade. The Iranian Air Force had a strength of about 55,000 men, with 35,000 men in the air force plus 20,000 more in its land-based air defense forces. The relative current strength of the Iranian Air Force is show in Table Twelve and Charts Forty-Two to Forty-Five.
The Iranian Air Force had 18 combat squadrons comprised of nine fighter ground-attack squadrons, with 4/55-60 F-4D/Es, 4/60 F-5E/FIIs, and ½7-30 Su-24s; and seven air defense squadrons, with 4/60-65 F-14s, 2/30-35 MiG-29s, and ½5-30 F-7Ms. Iran has claimed that it is modernizing its F-14s by equipping them with IHawk missiles adapted to the air- to-air role, but it is far from clear that this is the case or that such adaptations can have more than limited effectiveness. 379