Is The New Iranian Fighter Jet Actually New?


The country's first domestically-built fighter plane was unveiled on Tuesday (Picture: Office of Iranian President).

Iran have recently unveiled a reportedly domestically-built fighter jet called 'Kowsar'.

On Tuesday, photos were realised of President Hassan Rouhani sitting in the new aircraft.

Local media reported that the 'Kowsar' is a fourth-generation fighter jet, manufactured by Iranian military experts.

However, following the reveal of the new aircraft, many have highlighted its resemblance to the Northrop two-seater F-5F, which was first built in the US in the 1970s. According to CNBC, Tehran bought 68 F-5s from the US in 1974.

Joseph Dempsey, a military analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), highlighted the likeness of the new aircraft to the American F5-F in a tweet on Tuesday.

According to Jane's IHS Markit, Iran currently has an estimated 31 single-seater F-5E jets and 17 two-seater F5-F aircraft in service.

Iran’s ‘New’ Jet Fighter – Analysis

By Paul Beaver FRAeS, aviation consultant & historian

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the cockpit of new Kowsar jet (Picture: Office of Iranian President).

For nearly 40 years, Iran has been subject to military sanctions of one sort or other, so it is not surprising that the government has attempted to create an indigenous capability.

History shows that other sanctioned nations, like South Africa did the same – and did it in the same way.

Take an existing airframe, in this case the F-5F tandem-seat fighter trainer from 1974, and re-manufacture components and assemblies, and even upgrade the electronic systems with dual-use technologies.

Iran has done it before. Twenty years ago, after recovering from the war with Iraq, Iran rebuilt its air force of mainly American-made fighters and strike aircraft.

Iran will have also been helped by China, Libya or even North Korea to get its F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcats back into the air. Defence intelligence staffs around the world also noted the Sparrow air-to-air missile had been converted to act as an anti-ship or air-to-surface missile at the same time.

In the 1970s, Iran had been supplied with military hardware by Israel on the basis that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ when it was fighting Iraq, which was then the clear and present danger to Israel.

During defence exhibitions in the Middle East and Greece in the 1990s, Iranian teams were busy making contacts and buying dual-use equipment which could be legally acquired because it maintained the flight safety of airliners but could also be ‘back-engineered’ for military aircraft and naval vessels.

'Kowsar' could also be misinformation. The pictures officially released might well show the test bed airframe for new systems which would be fitted into another airframe.

This is how Iran has built and shown off unmanned aerial vehicles - or drones - in the past.

For now, the best analysis is that the world’s media was shown a re-engineered F-5F, something which is well within Iran’s technical capability.

In 40 years of watching Iran, I have learned never to underestimate the country’s ingenuity and ability to rise to a challenge.