Air Force was the largest overseas operators of the
F-4 Phantom before the Revolution. The Imperial Iranian Air
Force placed a order for 16 F-4Ds in 1967. A second batch
of 16 more F-4Ds was ordered later. The first batch of F-4Ds
arrived in Iran on September 8, 1968, with a total of 32 F-4Ds
being ultimately delivered to the Imperial Iranian Air Force.
Iranian F-4Ds were used in several unsuccessful attempts to
intercept Soviet MiG-25 that were spying on Iran. The first
combat use by Iran of the F-4D was in 1975 when Iran provided
military assistance to the Sultan of Oman in actions against
rebels. One of these F-4Ds was lost to ground fire.
The government of Iran ordered 208 F-4Es and a total of 32
RF-4E from McDonnell during the early and mid-1970s. The first
examples were delivered in March of 1971. A total of 177 F-4Es
(plus eight F-4Es borrowed from the USA and subsequently returned)
and 16 RF-4E were delivered to the Imperial Iranian Air Force
between the years 1971 and 1979. However, in 1979, Revolution
took over the government, and on February 28, 1979, the US
government placed an embargo on further arms deliveries to
Iran. The remaining 31 F-4Es and 16 RF-4E on the contract
were never delivered.
At this time, Iran had almost 223 operational Phantoms. Contrary
to Western reports, F-4 squadrons managed to maintain their
combat effectiveness despite widespread political upheavals
and personnel purges. Technical malfunctions, often appearing
during flight preparation, would reduce the flight packages,
but missions were seldom aborted for this reason.
The outbreak of the Iraq-Iran War on the afternoon of September
22, 1980, resulted in the newly re-organized Islamic Republic
of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) having to rely heavily on its F-4
Phantom units. This legendary veteran fighter-bomber was definitely
the star of the Iranian Air Force during the eight-year war
with Iraq, performing virtually every combat role, from pure
fighter to deep-penetration interdictor. Phantoms were to
play a key role in most of the missions far into Iraqi territory,
in many cases returning to base after sustaining heavy combat
The F-4's baptism of fire during the war with Iraq was an
unexpected one. The conflict began with an Iraqi air attack
on six Iranian air bases and four Iranian army barracks, followed
by a land offensive deep into the country at four points along
a 435-mile (700km) front. This first Iraqi air attack failed
due to rigid and inflexible mission planning, lack of sufficient
target intelligence and the use of unsuitable General Purpose
(GP) bombs. One F-4E was destroyed by having its nose section
cut off in a strafing run on the ramp at the Mehrabad airport,
and another F-4 base, Hamedan, also suffered some damage.
The first Iranian air attack into Iraq saw the successful
bombing of Al-Shoibiya naval base, near the port city of Um-Al
Qassr, by four F-4s from Bushehr AB, using 1,000lb (450kg)
bombs. Among the targets were several anti-shipping missile
batteries. This Iranian retaliation was so swift that Iraqi
air defense positions had been caught by surprise right across
the flight route. The next day, up to 140 Iranian fighter-bombers,
including significant numbers of F-4s from Bushehr, Tehran
and Hamedan, attacked a number of Iraqi air bases and military
installations with almost total impunity.
These first days of the war saw other air strikes against
such targets as the military installations of the Um-Al-Quasar.
On one such mission a two-ship formation of F-4Es, each armed
with six 750lb (340kg) GP bombs, attacked Iraqi port installations
and anchored missile boats. Some 20 minutes later, an RF-4E
took reconnaissance photos of the aftermath, which showed
that heavy damage had been inflicted on ships and harbor installations.
The general tactic for during such missions was to approach
the target from different directions and then execute a pop-up
and dive attack. On the return flight, one of the Phantoms
was hit by a SAM missile on the right wing, damaging some
of its systems and control surfaces; despite this, the aircraft
was still flyable. However, the fuel indicators did not work
and the right wing caught fire. The runways of the nearest
base were still damaged from the first day's bombing, so the
crippled Phantom had to land on the unaffected part at a higher
than normal speed. The tires burst and the aircraft ran off
the end of the runway, after the crew had already ejected.
Later, the aircraft's wing was replaced, the first time such
work had been undertaken in Iran, and it was returned to combat
The first months of the war saw the Iranian Air Force making
concentrated efforts to halt the Iraqi ground advance, often
directly engaging tank and vehicle columns, sometimes at altitudes
as low as 10-13f. (3-4m). Iraqi MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters
were used as top cover to protect their military columns heading
toward Iran, and as a result there were many air-to-air encounters
- with mixed results.
Attack on Habbaniyeh Airfield
after the Iraqi invasion, two F-4D Phantoms were sent to attack
the important air base of Habbaniyeh, 70 miles (112km) west
of Baghdad. The flight was equipped with ECM pods and supported
by F-14 Tomcats at the border, with an RF-4E on stand-by.
Aerial refueling was carried out at 13,000ft (3,960m) and
the Phantoms then crossed the border to their target. One
aircraft was shot down by a SAM over Baghdad and its crew
taken prisoner. The second Phantom was able to evade an SA-6
missile by making an 11g turn, the missile passing across
the aircraft's tail and wing. The crew realized that it was
impossible to continue the attack and resorted to a pre-determined
secondary target, the Al-Bakr oil refinery.
On the return leg, two Iraqi MiG-23s intercepted the F-4 and
fired air-to-air missiles; the Phantom, flying at very low
altitude, jettisoned its drop tanks and made evasive maneuvers.
The MiGs finally broke off the pursuit, by this time the Phantom
was very low on fuel and the crew declared an emergency, preparing
to eject. Having no other alternative, the supporting stand-by
Boeing 707 tanker crossed the border into Iraq to provide
much-needed fuel for the starving F-4, which by that time
had only 700lb. left.
During the early months of the war, the number of Iranian
aircraft being shot down by Iraqi air defenses was relatively
low, mainly because the operators were so inexperienced. However,
this rate increased as the conflict progressed and newer systems
were introduced. The flat topography of Southern Iraq meant
that intruding Iranian aircraft were detected soon after entering
the country. Deployment of newly-purchased low-altitude Cortile
and Roland SAMs in and around Nasseriyeh AB and other military
significant sites, including the strategic city of Baghubeh
near Baghdad, during 1986-87, increased the capabilities of
the Iraqi defenses.
The most impenetrable air defense network in Iraq was undeniably
to be found protecting Baghdad. The city was surrounded by
overlapping belts of SA-2/-3/-6/-8, Roland and Cortile SAMs,
radar-guided AAA and MiG-21/-23 and -25 air defense fighter
On March 19, 1982, a high-altitude strike formation of Phantoms
was bounced and engaged by an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat from a distance
of 60 miles (97km), and was also simultaneously illuminated
by air defense radars. A number of SA-2 'telegraph poles'
were seen passing through the formation, but all exploded
at higher altitude, having been decoyed by the Phantom ECM
pods. However, one F-4 was hit by an AAM fired from the Foxbat,
shattering its canopy, causing the right engine to shut down,
and badly damaging the fuselage. Nevertheless, the pilot managed
to land his aircraft safely.
The Iraqis also practiced a tactic of setting up ambushes
inside Iran at the border areas and pulling Iranian aircraft
into the Iraqi airspace. Then Iraqi Mirage F1 or MiG-25 fighters
equipped with long-range missiles would intercept them. Some
Iranian F-4s were shot down using this tactic, particularly
over the northern Persian Gulf. Iranian Phantoms and F-14A
Tomcats also used to take advantage of such co-operative tactics;
F-4s acting as the prey and F-14s as the hunters. This is
contrary to previous reports in Western publications, where
it had been suggested that Tomcats acted as prey for hunter
As for another important mission late in the war, during Operation
Valfajr-10, Iranian F-4 Phantoms attacked and bombed Baghdad's
Tamuz nuclear reactors for a second time.
Air Force used various weapons options in conjunction with
its F-4 Phantom operations. They included general purpose
bombs; such as 500lb. Snakeye (x12) to 750lb. (x6) and 1,000lb.
(x6) GP or retard versions. AIM-7E Sparrow and AIM-9P/J Sidewinder
missiles were also carried regularly for air defense and fighter
escort missions. Other weapons included the AGM-65A Maverick
used in conjunction with TISEO electro-optical sensor, BL
755 cluster bomb customized for low-altitude delivery, Napalm
tanks and LAU-61 rocket launchers. Iranian F-4Ds also used
the SUU-23 gun pods to good effect.
Two Iranian F-4D Phantoms were tasked with striking a logistically
important bridge near Basreh on September 29, 1981, employing
LGBs. They used a buddy-lasing tactic, one acting as target
designator at about 13,000ft equipped with AVQ-9 Pave Light
laser designator. The target was hit, but a short time later
an SA-6 missile homed in on the designating aircraft. Both
crew ejected as the aircraft was destroyed.
Escaping US Missiles
to Iranian records, in early spring 1988 - it actually happened
during the so called "Battle of the Frigates" on
18 April, 1988, an Iranian F-4E Phantom from 9th Tactical
Fighter Base, Bandar-Abbas, armed with air-to-air missiles,
was tasked with escorting a number of other Iranian Phantoms
undertaking an unspecified strike mission within the Persian
Gulf. That day, US forces in the area were also active and
their warships warned off the low-flying Iranian strike package
The escort Phantom was scanning the area for any hostile activity,
as the other F-4s attacked their targets one after the other
and then left the area. Shortly after the last attacking aircraft
returned, the escort fighter's RWR/RHAW indicated a missile
lock. Moments later, a reportedly Standard Missile SM- 2ER
radar guided surface-to-air missile, said to be launched from
USS Wainwright, operating in the area near the Straight of
Hormuz was seen coming towards the Phantom.
To break the radar lock, the Phantom jinked hard with maximum
power, pulling a +12g turn. The missile exploded nearby, spraying
the airframe with shrapnel, severing hydraulic lines and damaging
the left engine.
The aircraft headed towards the nearest auxiliary airstrip,
but on the way it again came under attack from behind. The
Phantom tried hard to break the radar lock by flying low and
taking evasive action. Moment later, near the airstrip, another
missile passed the right side of the F-4, hitting the water
and exploding. The aircraft managed to evade this and landed
on the runway. Since the airstrip lacked a barrier facility,
the pilot decided to get airborne again - despite the threat
from the unseen missile shooter - and headed towards the main
Despite partial hydraulic failure, engine problems and severe
damage to the wing and fuselage, the Phantom remained controllable
and finally landed in Bandar Abbas. This particular aircraft
was rebuilt and returned to service after 6,000 man-hours
and two and half months of work.
Phantom had been undeniably the backbone of the Iranian Air
Force during the country's eight year war with Iraq. A role
that it still is fulfilling to the best of Iranian Air Force
Base, Mehrabad, Tehran. Generating fighter and escort missions
inside the border along western and south-western Iraq. It
also operated as the main hub for tanker operations and aerial
reconnaissance missions into Iraq and over battle fronts.
3rd Fighter Base, Hamedan (Shahrokhi, later Nojeh). Home to
31st and 32nd Fighter Wings. This base was in charge of aerial
support of the western front Flying time from this base to
Baghdad was 30 minutes. Due to its high sortie generation
rate, Nojeh came under constant enemy bombing.
4th Fighter Base, Dezful (Vahdati) (mostly F-5). Because of
its proximity to the Iraqi border, this base was constantly
under artillery attacks and bombing.
6th Fighter Base, Bushehr. This base was mainly tasked with
attacks on shipping in the northern and central parts of the
Persian Gulf, escort and support of Iranian naval operations,
and strike missions against Iraqi ports and naval vessels.
9th Fighter Base, Bandar Abbas. Mainly in charge of attacking
shipping in the Persian Gulf, aircraft from this base monitored
foreign military activities in and around the Strait of Hormuz,
and provided escort and support of Iranian naval assets.
10th Fighter Base, Chabahar. This AB was in charge of monitoring
the Sea of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
4 PHANTOM SQUADRONS AS OF LATE 1970's
*1st Tactical Air Base , Tehran (Mehrabad)
One Squadron RF- 4E Recon
Tactical Air Base , Tabriz
Squadrons F- 4 E
Tactical Air Base , Hamadan ( Shahrokhi)
Squadrons F- 4 E
Tactical Air Base , Bushehr
F- 4 E
Two Squadrons F- 4D
Tactical Air Base , Shiraz
F- 4 E
Tactical Air Base , Bandar Abbas
Tactical Air Base , Chabahar
F- 4 E
Phantom serial Numbers:
McDonnell F- 4D-35-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4D-36-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4D-37-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4D-38-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-46-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-47-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-51-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-52-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-53-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-54-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-55-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-56-MC Phantom
McDonnell RF- 4E-48-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-57-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-58-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-59-MC Phantom
McDonnell RF- 4E-61-MC Phantom
McDonnell RF- 4E-62-MC Phantom
McDonnell F- 4E-63-MC Phantom Order cancelled in 1979
McDonnell RF- 4E Phantom Order cancelled in 1979, planes reduced
McDonnell RF- 4E Phantom Order cancelled in 1979, plane reduced
McDonnell RF- 4E Phantom Order cancelled in 1979.
for Mc Donnell Douglas F-4 PHANTOM II
combat radius 786 miles; top speed 1585 mph; ceiling 62000
plant: two General Electric J79-GE-17A turbojets rated at
11810 lbs thrust each dry; 17900 with afterburner
one M61 20mm cannon w/ 640 rds, maximum ordnance 16000 lbs,
including bombs, missiles, AIM-7Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder
,Maverick and AAMs.