Earlier this year the Iranian Air Force conducted a major exercise titled “velayat 3”. The exercise was one of the largest conducted by Iran’s Regular military since the exercise started three years ago. F-14s, F-4s, F-5s, Seqeahs, F-7s, Su-24s and Mig-29s all took part in the operation. A modified Falcon 50 used for electronic warfare and Mohajar 4 UAVs supported the exercise.
During the exercise F-4 Phantom IIs and Su-24s deployed AGM-65 Maverick and KH-25 laser guided missiles. These aircraft also deployed unguided Kab500 and Mk series bombs. Seqeahs , F-7s and F-5s deployed unguided bombs and rockets as well on simulated targets. These strike aircraft were given targeting assistance and battle damage assessment by Mohajar-4 UAVs due the lack of targeting pods on the aircraft. F-14 Tomcats provided top cover for the strike packages and engaged in DACT with Mig-29 Fulcrums posing as aggressor aircraft. The Falcon 50 conducted Electronic warfare support providing a jamming environment. Later on during the exercise C-130s dropped Mk Series bombs from their cargo bays. KC-707s and KC-747s provided tanker support through our the duration of the sorties.
The Iranian Air Force is part of Iran’s Artesh unofficially referred to as the Regular Army. The Artesh is a completely separate military force and organization than the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp. The Artesh doesn’t benefit from the same funding as the Paramilitary IRGC and is not favored by many of Iran’s hardline politicians. The IRGC prefer to use tactical and theater ballistic missiles instead of fighter aircraft. On the other hand the IRGCs Air force does use Su-22 and Su-25 ground attack aircraft as well as Tucano light attack planes. These aircraft are designed for close air support.
The exercise likely simulated strikes against the Islamic State in Syria where the IRGC Aerospace Force conducted a missile strike in response to the Islamic State Terrorist attacks on Iran’s Parliament in Tehran back in June of 2017. The exercise might have been a move by Artesh senior officers to show the Iranian government the Air Forces diverse capabilities in contrast to those of the IRGC as well as exploit the limitations of ballistic missiles.
Iran’s Artesh also behaves completely different than the IRGC as the Artesh is not involved in Syria or Iraq with the exception of the brief deployment of brigade 65 advisors. The Artesh also behaves differently with US forces operating in the Persian Gulf compared to the IRGC with very few reordered unsafe incidents.