Jan 9, 2015
Iran begins mass production of Saeghe fighter
Quoting an Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) spokesperson, the Fars News Agency reported that the country now has 'several squadrons' of the Northrop F-5E Tiger II-derived aircraft in operational service. Prior to the report, the IRIAF was understood to have only about three Saeghe fighters flying with the 23rd Fighter Squadron, based at Tabriz in the far northwest of the country.
First revealed in 2007, the Saeghe is essentially an F-5E (141 of which were procured by the Shah of Iran prior to the revolution in 1979, with 31 still believed to be flying) that has been modified by Hevapeimasazi (Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries Company: HESA).
The Saeghe's most obvious modification is the twin-fin configuration that is similar to that of the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet series of aircraft. Indeed, Iranian officials have previously said that the Saeghe's performance is comparable to the Hornet's.
While it is not known to what extent the aircraft's engines or avionics have been modified, it's understood that Russia has supplied many internal systems, and some Grumman F-14A Tomcat and MiG-29 'Fulcrum' components may also have been adapted for the jet.
It is not clear how many of the IRIAF's F-5Es will undergo the Saeghe conversion, but Iranian media has previously reported that 24 such aircraft are planned. .
With Iran being unable to procure modern fighters due to an arms embargo that has been in place since the fall of the Shah in 1979, the Islamic Republic has been forced to resort to other means to not only maintain its existing inventory of largely US aircraft types, but also to develop 'new' models such as the Saeghe.
Over recent years, Iran's leaders have heralded the development of a number of such indigenously platforms, including fighters and maritime patrol aircraft, as well as attack and utility helicopters.
In terms of fighters, besides the Saeghe the IRIAF has revealed the Simorgh (essentially an F-5A that has been converted to F-5B two-seat configuration, with some sources alluding to a total of about 13 aircraft having been modified in this fashion), and most recently the Qaher (Conqueror/Omnipotent) F-313 'stealth fighter'.
The Iranian aerospace sector has had undoubted success in reverse engineering Western technologies (most likely with Russian and Chinese assistance) in the development of such platforms, but the rollout of the F-313 in early 2013 was met with almost universal derision, with design features that showed the aircraft to be fundamentally flawed.
Even so, necessity will ensure that Iran will continue to persevere in its efforts to develop its indigenous aerospace capabilities, as evidenced by the disclosure that it has obtained a Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon from Venezuela to reverse engineer its technologies.