Satellite imagery confirms that Iraq has received additional Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft. Heavily armed, the new attack jets will allow Iraq’s air arm to increase pressure on the Sunni militant group, the Islamic State. Recent imagery suggests that two shipments have occurred since the beginning of the year.
The first, comprised of three aircraft, was delivered by Russia and announced on April 17th, the same day the aircraft arrived. Imagery acquired late in the month showed the total number of Su-25 based at the airfield increasing from 16 to 19.
Subsequently, further deliveries may have occurred. New imagery purchased by offiziere.ch shows a total of 21 x Su-25 parked on the apron in late July. This suggests that at least five aircraft have been delivered since 2016, two more than previously announced. Who delivered the aircraft remains unknown; however Russia seems a likely source.
According to comments made by the Russian ambassador to Iraq, the country is expected to provide between 5 and 10 of the platform in a second batch. The new aircraft may be part of this second batch, adding to the five Frogfoot Russia previously delivered in June and July 2014. They join an existing inventory of Su-25KM, Su-25UBKM, and Su-25SM variants, already in operation.
Further to Russian deliveries, Iraq is believed to have also received refurbished Su-25s from Iran. Iran delivered five by July 2014, a month after Islamic State overran Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Iraq’s neighbor provided three more plus a replacement aircraft, after a Frogfoot was reportedly damaged. Islamic State also claimed to have shot down a Frogfoot near Ramadi last June.
The Su-25, the Russian equivalent of the US-built A-10 Warthog, provides dedicated close air support. The twin-engine Sukhoi has five hard-points underneath each wing for carrying weapons and an array of attachments. The aircraft first proved itself in the 1980s during Soviet counter-insurgency missions in Afghanistan, and has since joined the inventories of countries around the world.
Iraq’s Su-25 are subordinate to the 109th Attack Squadron based at Al-Rashid airbase.
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Update: September 20, 2016
Arnauld Delalande, a military aviation enthusiast for over 25 years, criticized the article above in a piece for War is Boring (WiB), titled “Let’s Account for All of Iraq’s Tank-Busting Jets“. Before the publication, Delalande reached out to the author of the article above, but neither the author nor offiziere.ch could incorporate his additional information since the source of his information was anonymous Iraqi pilots, and thus unverifiable.
Actually, we are not even sure if he really has any sources in Iraq. After the publication of his article, Babak Taghvaee, a military aviation historian, tweeted to the editor in chief at WiB, that his source information had been used without citation or permission. Correctly, WiB subsequently added Taghvaee as a co-author.
Instead of relying on unverifiable sources, we would prefer to use satellite imagery, a proven source of intelligence that is gaining a wider audience as of late. The author of the above article has almost 10 years of experience in analyzing satellite imagery for government and clients alike. Because of missing reliable collateral and according to conventions in imagery intelligence, he never concluded that Iraq had received additional Su-25 Frogfoot in 2016, but that satellite imagery “suggests” this possibility. He clearly wrote that further deliveries “may have occurred” since the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, Delalande completely misread that.
Frankly, we don’t know when the aircraft arrived, as we lack sufficient coverage of all of Iraq’s airfields. But this information gap can’t be filled with some disputable comments from Iraqi pilots. Setting aside the citation issues, we also have to assume that Iraqi pilots have no concept of operations security. Not to belabor the point, but the only thing that we explicitly state is that additional deliveries have occurred.
The intent of above article was to provide watchers of the Iraq conflict — the critiquing author included — tangible evidence of the delivered aircraft. From Delalande’s own research, it’s very clear that before the above article went public, he was not aware of Iraq’s full complement of Su-25, despite claims of knowing pilots in the target country. This is demonstrated in the author’s most recent work published in June 2016, in the magazine Combat Air. An excerpt is provided below for reference. It was published after the recent and very public delivery of three additional Su-25 from Russia in April.
In the short piece, the author reports on the Iraqi deliveries but only provides a count as high as 16 aircraft, which he repeats in his critique. As Delalande states in the June report, Iraq received (in the order quoted):
|3 x April 17, 2016 – from Russia||3 x July 1, 2014 – from Iran|
|2 x June 2014 – from Russia||4 x July 2014 – from Iran|
|3 x June/July 2014 – from Russia||1 x July 2015 – from Iran|
The 2014 deliveries have been mentioned by entries in the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database while others were also mentioned in an article by IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. Imagery baselines created by offiziere.ch prior to April 2016 consistently showed 16 of the aircraft at various times at the airfield, accounting for forward deployments or potential maintenance. After April those numbers grew to 19 and eventually 21 aircraft. In other words, Delalande was short 5 aircrafts before we published the article above.
Delalande writes in his critique that he “asked Iraqi pilots about [and 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”. Why didn’t he give an account of 21 aircrafts in his June report? We agree with him in one point: “curious”.
Furthermore, in his critique he says that he will provide a better account of the aircraft but instead co-opts info provided by Mr Taghvaee and new information presented at offiziere.ch while leaving WiB readers — myself included — without any definite answers. This is evident when he writes:
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.
In other words, Delalande simply provides another possible explanation, but no verifiable sources or any other evidence, which back-up his assertions. To be clear, we’re not saying he’s wrong, but we certainly don’t know if he’s right.
Nevertheless, we appreciate that WiB posted Delalande’s critique as it allowed us to correct a mistake in the article above. We initially said that a Su-25 was downed near Kirkuk. That was actually an AC-208 Caravan, as clearly stated in the published link. That was an error in our tracking document that has since been rectified.