Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force is holding onto strings..
As we all know that before the revolution , U.S.A and Iran had close ties , and during the friendship of that time, U.S offered the best of it's fighter planes to Imperial Iranian Air Force, the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagles.
Grumman Corporation arranged a competitive demonstration of the Eagle against the Tomcat before the Shah, and in January 1974, Iran ordered 30 F-14s and 424 AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, initiating Project Persian King, worth US$300 million. A few months later, this order was increased to a total of 80 Tomcats and 714 Phoenix missiles as well as spare parts and replacement engines for 10 years, complete armament package, and support infrastructure (including construction of the Khatami Air Base near Esfahan).
The first F-14 arrived in January 1976, modified only by the removal of classified avionics components, but fitted with the TF-30-414 engines. The following year 12 more were delivered. Meanwhile, training of the first groups of Iranian crews by the U.S. Navy, was underway in the USA; and one of these conducted a successful shoot-down with a Phoenix missile of a target drone flying at 50,000 ft (15 km).
Following the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, the air force was renamed the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) and the post-revolution interim government of Iran canceled most Western arms orders. In 1980 an Iranian F-14 shot down an Iraqi Mil Mi-25 helicopter for its first air-to-air kill during the Iran-Iraq conflict.
Flight formation of Iranian Tomcats, 2008
According to research by Tom Cooper, within the first six months of the war Iranian F-14s scored over 50 air-to-air victories, mainly against Iraqi MiG-21s and MiG-23s, but some also against Su-20/22s. In exchange, one F-14A was lost to a MiG-21.
Between 1982 and 1986 Iranian Tomcats were to see use in a series of slowly developing campaigns: mainly tasked with patrolling the skies over objects vital for the survival of Iranian regime and economy, like Tehran or Kharg Island. Most of these patrols were supported by Boeing 707-3J9C tankers, and some lasted as long as 10 hours with up to four in-flight refueling. Time and again, they were involved in new air battles, and performed well but their main role was intimidating the Iraqi Air Force. Cognizant of previous heavy losses in battles against Iranian F-14s, the Iraqis avoided any engagement with them, so that the sole presence of a Tomcat over the target area was enough to force Iraqi formations to abort their attacks. Because of this, and because of the precision and effectiveness of the Tomcat's AWG-9 weapons system and AIM-54A Phoenix long-range air-to-air missiles, the F-14 maintained air control over a lengthy period of time.
Iranian ace Jalil Zandi is credited with shooting down 11 Iraqi aircraft during the Iran–Iraq War making him the highest scoring F-14 pilot.
By 1987, the Iraqis had suffered such heavy losses to Iranian Tomcats that they were forced to find a solution with which they could engage them under equal circumstances. In early 1988 France delivered Mirage F.1EQ-6 fighters, equipped with Super 530D and Magic Mk.2 missiles, to Iraq.
Overall, Tom Cooper claims that Iranian F-14s shot down at least 160 Iraqi aircraft during the Iran-Iraq War, which include 58 MiG-23s, 23 MiG-21s, nine MiG-25s, 33 Dassault Mirage F1s, 23 Su-17s, one Mil Mi-24, five Tu-22s, two MiG-27s, one Dassault Mirage 5, one B-6D, one Aérospatiale Super Frelon, and two unknown aircraft. Despite the circumstances under which the F-14s and their crews had to operate in Iran during the eight-year long war against Iraq, it is still the premier fighter in the Iranian Air Force. The aircraft continued to operate without any support from AWACS or AEW aircraft, without even a proper support from the Ground Control Intercept(GCI). It faced an enemy that was repeatedly introducing new and more capable fighters, radars, weapons and ECM systems in combat and was supported by no less than three "superpowers" (France, the USA, and the USSR). Their crews were also permanently under heavy pressure from the regime in Tehran. That it proved as successful in combat is a result of strenuous efforts of IRIAF personnel and immense investment of the Iranian economy.
(An Iranian F-14 Tomcat)
So much for History Lesson :
The Tomcats are the backbone of the IRIAF and will be serving the IRIAF in the upcoming 1 - 2 decades , but as the U.S doesn't have bonds with Iran any more , these warplanes have never been upgraded and so they are running old.
They have only been upgraded to a minor extent (some radar , weaponry upgrades by Iran) but not on a major extent. Iran is the only user of F-14 Tomcat and viewing the tension between U.S and Iran , the upgrades for these warplanes are not going to happen.
The Russian Option :
The Jerusalem Post reported that Iran has signed an arms deal with the Russian Rosoboronexport arms group to buy 250 Su-30 MKM warplanes and 20 Il-78 MKI aerial tankers. It is reported that Israeli defense officials were investigating the potential Iran-Russia deal, in which Iran would pay $1 billion a dozen squadrons’ worth of the jets. Iran and Russia have both denied this and have rejected these claims as propaganda. In a recent broadcast the "Mehr News Agency" has reported that they (the reporters) saw a dozen Su 30s in a maneuver that took place on 15 and 16 September 2008; further the report reads: "In this joint maneuver of the IRIAF and the AFAGIR which is called the 'Guardians of the Nations Skies' the Air Forces of Iran have tested domestically developed systems as well as newly purchased systems (from Russia and China).The harsh warnings of Israel that it could attack Iran at any time and the Russo-American conflict over Georgia have led to reported weapons sales to Iran by Russia, but so far there have no details been revealed by either side.
It is just a matter of time that the deal will be executed shortly and as far as the Israel is concerned, the warnings are just warnings as such war is not possible in today's international politics and scenario.
(II-78 MKI Fuel Aircraft)
Where the Thunder Comes in :
(According to Global Security, in July 2003 Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corporation (CAIC) unveiled the new ‘Super-7’ or Chao Qi fighter plane to the public, China supposedly received orders from Iran. The plane, now called the FC-1 is an export version of the JF-17 Thunder and entered production in 2006. As of 2008 Iran hasn't received any such plane.
It's been whole 9 years since 2003, and maybe now is the right opportunity for Pakistan to offer IRIAF it's JF-17 Thunder , and even from strategic point of view the Thunder fits right in between SU-30Mk's and F-14's as a multipurpose fighter aircraft, and it would be good to do so as Pakistan is struggling to find any buyers for JF-17 Thunder.
If this happens then Pakistan and Iran will benefit a lot from this deal, for Pakistan the cost per aircraft will decrease and for Iran there will be a multi-role Jet fighter ready to guard the front lines, both countries relations will also improve which will in turn lead to many favors and shared technological advancement.
(A Pakistan Air Force JF-17 Thunder)