To much local media attention, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) displayed what it claimed was its first domestically-designed and manufactured fighter jet on Tuesday. However, observers have been quick to point out the Kowsar bears a striking resemblance to the F-5 designed by Northrop in the 1950s and used by US forces since the 1960s.
The twin-seater Kowsar was unveiled at a ceremony in Tehran to mark Defense Industry Day. It was attended by President Hassan Rouhani, defense minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami and other officials. Rouhani was pictured in the cockpit of the aircraft at the launch.
Local Iranian news agency reports described the Kowsar as a “fourth-generation” fighter jet with advanced avionics, radar and fire control systems which can be used for short aerial support missions. TV footage showed the plane taxiing along the ground but not taking off or in flight, although news agencies did publish still images of it in the air.
Its close resemblance to the US-made F-5 fighter has raised doubts about how effective it would prove to be in reality, something Iran's opponents have been quick to seize on.
Ofir Gendelman, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, was among those to note the similarity, saying “I immediately saw that this was a very old US warplane.”
Other analysts also suggested the age of the original aircraft would be a factor. “Yes, it’s a modernised F-5, first designed in the 1950s and in service since the 60s. One can get a lot out of modernising older airframes but this is pushing it,” said Justin Bronk, research fellow for airpower and technology at the Royal United Services Institute.
In recent years, Iranian officials have boasted on several occasions about their ability to overhaul aging fighter jets in their fleet, including a number of F-4, F-5, F-14, Mirage and Su-22 fighter jets, often spending thousands of man-hours on each. However, such claims are of a different order to saying they have produced an entirely new model.
Iran used to be a key customer for US arms manufacturers, but following the 1979 revolution Washington cut off supplies. Since then, Tehran has had to look elsewhere while also developing its domestic defence industry. One particularly lucrative episode came in 1991, when it gained a number of aircraft from Iraq after Saddam Hussein sent his planes across the border to protect them from the US-led invasion – the planes were never returned.
Nonetheless, as a result of its inability to freely access international markets, Iran’s air force fleet is looking increasingly old and tired. London-based think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimates the Iranian air force has around 300 fighter / attack aircraft but not all are airworthy. The IISS estimates the serviceability is around 80% for the Russian-built aircraft and just 60% for the US-made ones.
Iran also regularly announces the launch of new weapons systems, including the Bavar (Belief) 373 missile defence system earlier this month, which is said to be a home-grown version of the Russian S-300 system.
However, the quality of its domestically-produced weapons has frequently been questioned. A recent report by defense industry specialists Jane’s said Iran had made “remarkable progress, given the Islamic Republic’s international isolation and limited defence-industrial base. Nevertheless, Iranian weapons often fall short, literally and metaphorically.”
As an example it pointed to the Zolfaghar missile, unveiled in September 2016. This has been used during the ongoing Syrian civil war but has proved to have questionable reliability and accuracy.
The most infamous example of a dubious weapons launch remains the Qaher F-313 stealth plane. This was unveiled in 2013 during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s time in office, but was quickly judged to be simply a model by international analysts.
Date: Aug 30, 2018