May 29, 2012: Earlier this year Iran announced that it had converted some of its An-140 passenger transports into martime patrol aircraft and equipped them with the FLIR (forward-looking infrared) Systems Ultra8500 optronic sensor. There are two things wrong with this. First, Iran produces the An-140 under license with the understanding that the aircraft only be used for civilian purposes. Second, FLIR Systems is an American firm that is forbidden, by law, from selling thermal imaging systems like the Ultra8500 to Iran. FLIR Systems quickly denied that it had sold any of its Ultra8500s to Iran. Shortly after that it was revealed (by close examination of the photos Iran had provided to the media showing the Ultra8500 optronic sensor on its An-140s) that the Iranian photos had been doctored ("photoshopped") to make it look like the An-140s had Ultra8500s. This sort of deception is common with the Iranians, who like to boast about imaginary weapons. This is done mainly for internal consumption. The Iranian military has no illusions about keeping the truth from foreign intelligence agencies. The Iranian people, however, are another matter.
That said, some An-140 transports have been converted to serve as maritime patrol aircraft, but they are equipped with more mundane (and less capable) sensors. Most of these twin turboprop aircraft are built in Ukraine. Since introduced in 2007, the 19 ton An-140 has been used mainly as a civilian aircraft (it can carry 52 passengers). Some An-140s sold to Russia are modified for military use. The civilian version sells for about $9 million each, but the militarized version (sturdier landing gear, more electronics, configured to carry five tons of cargo) increases the price to about $12 million. This is about half the price of a similar Western aircraft. That economy comes at a cost, as five of the 35 An-140s delivered so far have crashed. However, two of those were An-140s built under license in Iran.
The 19 ton An-140 has a range of 1,300 kilometers and a cruise speed of 460 kilometers an hour. The military version will probably be able to carry about five tons of cargo. The Russian Air Force wants to rebuild its air transport fleet and replace existing An-24s. The An-140 is a radical upgrade of the 21 ton An-24 of Cold War fame.