potential weapons purchases are often just rumors, or stories planted to cause
a bit of mischief. That is often hard
for intelligence officers - and those who follow such things - to determine
what is real. Perhaps the most recent example of this is the rumor that Iran is about to buy 250
Su-30 jet fighters and 20 Il-78 tankers. This rumor, even if it is untrue, will
have its effects on friend and foe alike.
This is not the first time
that Iran has been rumored to be making a big purchase from Russia. Throughout
the 1990s, Iran figured in rumors of numerous
major deals, most notably the one about a small force of Russian Tu-22M
heavy hombers, capable of firing the AS-4 air to ground missile (which has a
range of over 500 kilometers and a 2,000-pound warhead). That deal was on and
off multiple times, and ultimately did not materialize. Iran eventually bought
some MiG-29s, T-72s, and Kilo-class submarines, though.
Rumors of purchases can serve
many purposes - and also many sides. For Iran, the benefits of a rumored purchase
are manifold. First, there is the morale boost it can provide for the military
and/or Revolutionary Guards. Troops like to get new equipment, especially if it
promises to be an improvement over current gear. For Iran, the Su-30s would be
an upgrade over the aging force of F-14, F-4, and F-5 aircraft.
It can also affect potential
adversaries as well. For instance, the rumored purchase could hopefully deter
an Israeli attack - thereby preserving Iran's nuclear weapons program from an
attack. Failing that, it could force the Israelis into attacking sooner than
they would like - in order to get their blow in before Iran can integrate the
new aircraft into their military structure. This would give the Iranians ample
fodder for their propaganda efforts against Israel.
That said, not all of the
effects will be negative. Israeli and American Air Forces will be using this
purchase for the really important war - the annual budget. The Israelis will be
asking for a lot more aid, and access to more advanced platforms, like the F-35
and F-22. The United States Air Force will be able to use this to push for more
F-22s as well, keeping that production line open. That turn of events would
make F-22 manufacturer Lockheed very happy. So will Saudi Arabia, which will
now have reason to push harder for systems like Aegis. The Russian aircraft
manufacturers, of course, will have the potential for a new customer.
In essence, rumors like this
will cut both ways. Iran will benefit, but at the same time, so will potential
adversaries - no matter what happens. In essence, these rumors will cause a lot
of trouble - and could lead to a number of countries spending a lot of money to
counter a deal that may not go through at all. - Harold C. Hutchison