LONDON: Iran on Tuesday unveiled what it claimed was its first domestically built, powerful fighter jet — to widespread derision from defense and military experts.
State TV showed President Hassan Rouhani sitting in the cockpit of the new “Kowsar fourth-generation fighter” at the National Defense Industry exhibition in Tehran.
The warplane had “advanced avionics” and multi-purpose radar, and was “100-percent indigenously made,” Iranian state media said.
However, suspicions were raised when live footage of the plane taxiing along a runway ended before it actually took off. Analysts were reminded of 2013, when Iran trumpeted the “domestically built Qaher 313 fighter jet” — which turned out to be a plastic model that never flew.
“Iran’s so-called ‘indigenous Kowsar-88’ fourth-generation fighter is not fourth-generation and is not truly indigenous,” security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, told Arab News.
“This jet is a Frankenstein’s monster for optics only. The aircraft’s frame is an American Northrop F-5F Tiger II slapped together with various accoutrements.
“This Iranian production is similar to the Qaher 313 a few years ago, another so-called fourth-generation fighter that could overtake America's F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
“At that time, it was plainly obvious that the Qaher 313 was a slapped together mock-up for international propaganda purposes. Now we have two optical illusions.”
Justin Bronk, a research fellow specializing in combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute, also said the “new” Iranian jet was a carbon copy of an F-5 Tiger, first produced in the US in the 1960s.
“It’s a very small, lightweight fighter with very small engines,” he said.
“While you might put in a modern radar, or modern avionics — by Iranian standards —it is still going to be subject to all the limitations of the F-5 airframe.”
The plane was first publicly announced on Saturday by Defense Minister Amir Hatami, who had said it would be unveiled on Wednesday.
He gave few details of the project, focusing instead on Iran’s efforts to upgrade its missile defenses.
Hatami said the defense program was motivated by memories of the missile attacks Iran suffered during its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, and by repeated threats from Israel and the United States that “all options are on the table” in dealing with the Islamic republic.