0257 GMT May 27, 2022
First of all, could you please tell us a little about yourself?
I am Major General Hossein Chitforuosh. I was born in 1956 in Dezful. In February 1976, I joined the Iranian Army’s Air Force and was recruited to its flight school. After several combat and flight courses, I was sent to the United States in the summer of 1977 to go through an advanced flight training course. I returned to Iran in March 1979.
I’m curious to know what triggered your passion for flying and made you think of joining the air force as a pilot.
The passion for flying lies in human nature, as it is mentioned in many mythical stories, such as Ferdowsi's ‘Shahnameh’, Solomon’s carpet, or the accounts of Kaykaus and Icarus. The humankind has always sought to see what is going on up there.
Personally, when I was a child, our house was adjacent to an air base. There, I used to watch aerobatic maneuvers and flights. I remember going to the rooftops with my friends and watching flights for hours. This might have subconsciously prompted my taste and enthusiasm for flying.
Your return to Iran coincided with the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war. What were your responsibilities at the time?
After returning to Iran, I first flew a C-130 transport plane. After that, again in the transportation system, I was tasked to fly Khoffash (literally, ‘bat’), an especially equipped C-130, to perform electronic reconnaissance missions. The missions aimed to gather intelligence and conduct electronic interceptions about Iraqi military: Air operations and raids, the location of military bases, the exact placement of Iraqi air defense and missile sites, the coordinates of army division staff, and troop transfers and developments of ground, aerial and maritime forces.
I flew the plane for about a thousand hours, and occasionally I was up in the sky for eight to 10 hours at a time. That kind of intelligence was critical for carrying out various operations and dealing with the enemy's military movements.
Later, I was swayed to do other things as well, because there was a need for pilot training and repairing the existing fleet.
How come? You were already doing a critical battlefront job.
As you perhaps know, before the revolution, all our pilots were to be trained abroad, in Russia, France, Germany and finally the United States. But after the revolution, the situation changed as the Iranian Army was denied further military training, and we were subject to sanctions on civilian aircraft and fighters. The US refused to allow a number of Iranian students to complete their flight courses, even though the training contracts had been already paid for in full.
Since there was no one left to train them, we took up the task of training our forces. In that spirit, it was an honor for both the Islamic Republic and the air force to establish flight schools. I was one of the pilots who first moved from Dezful to Isfahan to train our burgeoning forces. In addition, based on my experience in aircraft repair processes, I was tasked to command the aircraft maintenance battalion in Isfahan.
Are your still engaged in training activities?
After more than 40 years of active duty, I retired in 1995. But I still work in the field of education, serving the students of Shahid Sattari University, among others, in matters of piloting fighter planes and UAVs.
In fact, out of my almost 4,000 hours of flight so far, some 3,000 hours have been used in training up and coming pilots. I’m honored to have been a teacher to many current commanders and pilots of our Armed Forces.
In sharp contrast to the pre-revolution years when all flight training was carried out abroad, today, thanks to God, the training is done here in Iran, and it’s even more robust than what’s offered in the United States or other countries. We now have pilots who have finished all their courses in Iran and are able to design and lead important flights and operations. It is safe to say that tens of billions of dollars have been saved so far in providing such trainings in the country.
What steps have you taken to build and equip warplanes?
Based on my experience in constructing, maintaining and flying warplanes in various air bases, in 2005 I was named commander of Owj Complex, affiliated with the Iranian Army’s Air Force. There, we managed to build a prototype of Saeqe fighter (literally, ‘lightening’), and give it to the Ministry of Defense for mass production.
An entirely homegrown product, the warplane is in the F-5 class, but equipped with more advanced parts and systems. Our managing to construct it paved the way for the manufacturing of more advanced aircraft.
Let's talk more about the war period. From the very beginning of the Iraqi invasion, the air force was one of the first divisions of our Armed Forces to confront the enemy. Tell us about those first days of the war.
Between 1300 and 1400 hours on September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded our country. In the first hours of the war, the Ba'athist army scrambled a fleet of 192 warplanes to target 15 bases, sites and spots in our country. The large-scale offensive was modeled on the 1967 Six-Day (Arab-Israeli) War, in which Israel had defeated four Arab countries through expansive airstrikes.
According to some documents, at the beginning of Iraqi invasion, Saddam Hussein, along with his minister of war Adnan Khairullah and King Hussein of Jordan, symbolically fired a cannon at the border with Iran and announced that they would break the back of the Islamic Republic in less than an hour. In fact, they thought they would win the war rather quickly through the massive bombing of Iran's critical centers.
But almost two hours after Iraq invaded our country, our fighters took to the skies from two air bases in Hamedan and Bushehr, and hit Shaibah and Kut air bases in Iraq. These were two strong, significant bases from which the Iraqi aerial invasion had originated. It was codenamed Operation Revenge.
Less than 15 hours later, at 0500 hours, a fleet of more than 140 warplanes conducted a massive operation, bombing Iraq’s air and ground bases as well as its strategic and vital centers. Codenamed Alborz or Kaman 99, the operation continued for four more days, dealing heavy blows to the enemy.
How effective were the air force raids in stalling enemy invasion, thus keeping it from occupying Iranian territories?
The air raids were carried when no other division of our Armed Forces were yet ready and prepared to face the enemy. It was in that context that our fighters reacted to the enemy forces very quickly, bombing out its vital centers both on the frontline and deep inside the enemy territory.
This was at a time when many countries had joined hands to, so to speak, surprise Iran in the very first week of the war. The timely response of the air force, however, effectively surprised the Ba'athist army. What can substantiate my claim is the fact that the first UN Security Council resolution for cease-fire was issued a week after the Iraqi invasion, due mostly to the authority of our air force which brought the Ba'athist forces to their knees.
Examining the field conditions in the first months of the war, the occupied areas of the country, and how we managed to retake them, it can be said without exaggeration that the air force moved heaven and earth to prevent the enemy from advancing. Most of the air force martyrs also lost their lives in the first quarter of the war in order to stop the enemy. In total, the air force participated in four widely successful, major operations, namely Samen ol-A'emeh, Tariq al-Quds, Fat’h ol-Mobin, and finally Beit ol-Moqaddas, the last one of which led to the liberation of the city of Khorramshahr.
How did Iraq and its patrons react to those defeats?
Iran's massive victories shocked the whole world, and especially the Arab states, to the core. They, therefore, agreed that an international gesture was required to restore Iraq's strength against Iran. That’s why a Non-Aligned Movement conference was scheduled to be held in Baghdad in September 1982.
Holding the conference in Baghdad would be a great advantage for the enemy and a great embarrassment for the Islamic Republic of Iran. It would make Iran internationally isolated because Saddam would actually chair the summit, and more than 120 participating countries would probably support Iraq by calling Iran an aggressor and issuing a resolution at the end of the conference to condemn Iran.
Iran’s political and diplomatic maneuvering failed to prevent the conference from taking place in Baghdad, and Iranian officials’ letters to that effect went unanswered. There was only one way: An air raid to hit the Al-Doura Refinery near Baghdad, adjacent to the conference venue. The Baghdad Operation, also known as Al-Doura Operation, was successfully carried out by Martyr Abbas Doran and his companions. Doran lost his life in the operation, but as Islamic Revolution Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said, Doran did what several military divisions couldn’t do.
You’d been working closely with Martyr Captain Abbas Babaei as well. Tell us more about him, please.
My direct contact with Babaei began in the city of Isfahan in 1983 when Babaei took over the responsibility of the most important function of the air force, namely the deputy for operations and flights.
Due to my responsibilities in providing repair, maintenance and support services for the flights, I had consistent contact with him in various meetings. Not only a pious man of high moral integrity, he was a shrewd strategist, had a unique character, and his presence commanded much charisma. Therefore, he was, and still is, a role model for me and other young people who knew him.
We were under his command at Ra’d Staff Air Base in Isfahan in central Iran. At the time, France had provided Iraq with Mirage and Super Étendard fighter jets, which they used to attack our cargo ships in the Persian Gulf, which were carrying wheat and other essential needs of our country.
In an extraordinarily strategic move, which met with much domestic opposition at the planning stage, Babaei moved the air base to Bushehr port city in southern Iran so that Iranian F-14 fighters could immediately scramble to respond to Iraqi attacks on our ships. As it turned out, the plan was very successful and prevented the enemy from achieving its goals.
Finally, could you please let us know about the current capabilities of the Iranian Army’s Air Force? To what extent does the country's military aviation industry draw upon domestic potential and know-how?
The air force flight capability is predicated upon its organization, equipment and system, as well as its fleet of various aircraft such as F-5, F-14, tanker aircraft, etc. All of the above are heavily dependent on components and spare parts, which need to be replaced regularly.
Before the revolution, about 50,000 to 55,000 American advisers and experts used to regularly service and replace the parts needed to maintain the system. For your information, depending on its function, each aircraft part must be replaced after 10 hours, a hundred hours, or more of flight. Such replacements require both a specialist and a component.
That’s why upon their leaving the country, American advisers used to say in their interviews that the Iranian Air Force would become entirely confined to the grounds in three to four months, and the Iranian warplanes could no longer fly.
But neither during the war, nor now that 40 years have passed since the revolution, we have needed anyone else to help us fly our birds and protect our skies, as our warplanes are flying like the first day. This couldn’t be achieved if it were not for our homegrown knowledge base, technical capability, and manufacturing industry, which helped us move beyond merely producing the needed parts and start building our own warplanes.