In Iran’s endless drive to prove that its military makes it a great world power, the Iranian media showed off three locally built “Kowsar” fighter jets this week. They were delivered to the armed forces by Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami. Iran claims it has been building “domestically produced” jets since 2018.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has sought to spotlight Iran’s air force in recent comments, claiming that if an arms embargo is ended, Iran’s expanded jet fighters could pose a threat. Pompeo wrote on Wednesday that if the UN arms embargo were to expire in October, Iran “will be able to buy new fighter aircraft like Russia’s SU-30 and China’s J-10.”
These lethal aircraft could threaten Europe and Asia, the US says. In theory, they could also threaten Israel.
Pompeo’s map of Iranian aircraft threats shows that the J-10 could make a one-way 1,648-km. flight and reach Israel. But being unable to return to Iran, it would be the end of the Iranian air force if it embarked on this journey.
The SU-30 could get to Italy on a one-way mission. That is enough gas for the Iranian pilot to defect. And that likely is the only reason an Iranian pilot would take a precious aircraft on a one-way mission: to flee Iran. An Iraqi pilot actually did that in 1966, flying his MiG-21 to Israel to flee Iraq.
A more reasonable discussion about Iran’s air power reveals that its great achievements are in drone technology, not aircraft. HESA, the corporation that makes some of Iran’s aircraft, is built on an American Textron factory that once made Bell helicopters in Iran.
It is basically good at making copies of 1970s American equipment. For instance, the Kowsar is a copy of an American Northrop F-5, first built in the 1950s. The engineering team at HESA has also managed to copy a Bell 206 helicopter and rename it a Shahed 274.
What HESA has been more innovative at is making drones, such as the Ababil. Iranian drones have struck Saudi Arabia and have been given to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah. They are a serious threat to the region; Iran’s air force is not.
Tehran still has American F-14 Tomcats and some MiG-29s it acquired in 1990. Some of these are Iraqi aircraft acquired when Baghdad sent its air force to Iran in 1991. Iran also has American F-4s and F-5s and several Su-22s.
Iran has used its air force sparingly. In contrast, the IRGC and its aerospace engineers led by Amir Hajizadeh have actually pioneered precision guidance for missiles and drones. This is a major threat, and it is where Iran has sought to do asymmetric warfare, building capabilities that can go around its enemies.
For instance, Iran used ballistic missiles to attack US forces in Iraq in January. It has attacked ISIS and Kurdish dissidents. Tehran has transferred ballistic missiles to Iraq and precision-guided munitions to Hezbollah. It is in this IRGC-based technology that the Islamic Republic excels.
The end of an arms embargo would give Iran access to more sophisticated weaponry. But the implication that it would funnel that to its aging air force in order to threaten others seems unlikely.
On the other hand, the immediate neighbors of Iran are chaotic, and it can exploit the weaknesses of Iraq and Afghanistan to use its air force. Turkey’s air force is already pounding Iraq, claiming to be fighting terrorists.
But Iran’s adversaries in the Gulf have access to the latest US air-defense technology.
In general, Iran is a substandard country when it comes to its regular air force. But when it comes to its drones and missiles, it may be one of the world’s major powers – and certainly a major threat.
Source » jpost