Let’s Account for All of Iraq’s Tank-Busting Jets
Counting Baghdad’s Su-25s is tricky business
by ARNAUD DELALANDE & BABAK TAGHVAEE
A Sept. 2, 2016 analysis of satellite imagery from July seems to confirm that the Iraqi air force — the IqAF — maintains 21 Su-25 Frogfoot attack jets at Al Rashid air base.
According to the website Offiziere, the space-based photo suggests that two shipments of the rugged, twin-engine Su-25s — Russia’s answer to America’s A-10 Warthog — have occurred since the beginning of 2016.
Offiziere is wrong. But here’s how the website understandably arrived at that incorrect conclusion.
On April 17, 2016, Russia delivered three Su-25s to the IqAF. Imagery from around the same time showed 19 Frogfoots at Al Rashid — two short of the July total.
The two-plane gap led the author to conclude that additional aircraft, their origins unclear, had arrived in Iraq between mid-April and July 2016.
I asked Iraqi pilots about the photo in question. They confirmed that Iraq has received 21 Su-25s. But they also claimed that there was no recent new batch after the delivery in April.
The pilots added that three of the Sukhois are out of service after suffering serious accidents, meaning only 18 of the attack jets are available for operations.
Iraq’s Su-25s arrived in several batches starting in 2014. On June 28 of that year, following Islamic State’s capture of the main cities in Al Anbar province, the IqAF urgently requested, and received, two Su-25SMs from Russia.
An An-124 cargo plane transported the Frogfoots to New Al Muthana air base. The secondhand aircraft had been operated by the Russian air force’s 412th Aviation Base at Domna in Zabaykalsky Krai. Before that, they were based in East Germany with the 899th Attack Aviation Regiment.
Three more examples of the tank-busting warplane — serials 2519, 2520 and 2521 — arrived in the next few days and deployed to Ali air base, where technicians from the 121st Aircraft Repair Plant returned them to flying condition.
On July 1, 2014, three of the seven Su-25s operational with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Air and Space Force also arrived in Baghdad — serials 15-2459 (an Su-25UBKM delivered to IRGCASF by Ulan-Ude in January 2013), 15-2451 (an Su-25KM upgraded and modernized by Iran’s Pars Aviation in 2011) and 15-2456 (a former Iraqi air force Su-25KM that had evacuated to Iran in 1991 and then modernized in 2012).
Two Iraqi and two Iranian pilots flew the former Iranian Su-25s from Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran to Ilam airport in western Iran, apparently arriving on June 18. Iraqi pilots conducted several training flights before transiting to Al Rashid air base in Iraq.
The last four Iranian Su-25s — Su-25KM serial numbers 15-2450 and 15-2454 (both ex-Iraqi) and Su-25UBKM serial numbers 15-2458 and 15-2457 — arrived at Al Rashid air base the following day.
The IqAF lost its first Frogfoot around Aug. 12, 2014, when Col. Jalil Al Awadi, a former MiG-23 pilot, crashed and died during takeoff at the military airport of New Al Muthana. The aircraft was badly damaged.
Another aircraft was lost in August or September. According to Iranian sources, an Su-25KM made an emergency landing after being hit by a surface-to-air missile around Kirkuk. The aircraft was badly damaged and the IqAF removed it from active service, but the pilot was unharmed.
On Oct. 21, according to the Iraqi defense ministry, an Su-25SM made an emergency landing at Salah-il-Din due to a technical problem.
Al Rashid is the home base of the 109th Attack Squadron, but the squadron’s entire fleet of Su-25s is not always located here. Detachments frequently send Frogfoots closer to the combat zone.
In mid-November 2014, one Su-25 deployed to Al Assad air base together with six Mi-35Ms, six Mi-17s, three UH-1Hs and six U.S. Army helicopters — two AH-64 Apaches and four UH-60 Blackhawks.
Al Assad became a staging point for Iraqi planes engaged in combat in Al Anbar province. On March 16, 2015, during the battle for Tikrit, five Su-25s carried out air strikes from Al Rashid including ex-Iranian Su-25UBKM serial number 2500 and Su-25KM serial number 2513 plus two former Russian Su-25SMs, serial numbers 2520 and 2522.
Three other Frogfoots deployed at Balad and the remaining two to Al Assad.
On July 13, 2015, a “new” Su-25KM arrived from Iran as a replacement for one of the aircraft that Iraq lost the previous summer. Pars Aviation had restored this aircraft between January and June 2015. In August 2015, another Su-25K appeared with a different color scheme and the serial number 2502.
By September 2015, fresh Iraqi pilots were training on the Su-25 in Belarus. The training contract relieved the increasing pressure on existing pilots, many of who were older veterans.
On April 17, 2016, Iraqi air force received the last batch of three single-seat Su-25s from Russia at Balad air base. Another two-seat Frogfoot, serial number 2501, was already in the same hangar. It seems it had been delivered by Russia in or around October 2015.
The three other “missing” units almost certainly arrived aboard An-124s from Russia between August and October 2015 together with serial 2501 and 2502. Thus there was no second delivery in 2016.
Between May and July, many Su-25s — including serial numbers 2504, 2505, 2507, 2510, 2511 — relocated to Balad air base for a short period together with an An-32B equipped as a bomber. The relocated jets joined Iraqi F-16s and L-159s striking Mosul in July.
The frequent detachments of Frogfoots from Al Rashid to other bases could explain Offiziere’s difficulty in accurately tracking the total number of Su-25s in the Iraqi inventory.
Also note — the aircraft Offiziere claims was lost during a surveillance operation near Kirkuk on March 16, 2016 was a Cessna AC-208 Caravan, not an Su-25. To recap, Iraq received five Su-25s from Russia and seven from Iran in 2014, plus an additional four from Russia and two from Iran in 2015 and three from Russia in 2016.
Editor’s note — we have amended this article to include Babak Taghvaee as a co-author, as the original author relied heavily on Taghvaee’s reporting for Combat Aircraft and Air Forces Monthly magazines.