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Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force /نيروي هوايي جمهوري اسلامي ايران


 Credit: Roundels of the world

Northrop F-5 maintenance and modification/upgrade projects

An US arms embargo after the declaration of the Islamic Republic of Iran forced the Air Force toward self-sufficiency, initially focusing in mantainance of the F-5 fleet, manufacture of spare parts and later in upgrading available airframes/avionics and building new aircrafts.

Maintenance goal was practically reached early, while manufacturing spare parts was only limited. They had to be unofficially imported; fictitious firms were established in several Western countries, trying to forward these spares to Iran. Some actions were blocked, like the one in February 1993 when British customs seized 7'5000 General Electric J-85-21B blades that the firm DBI Ltd. had manufactured as replacement for Iranian AF F-5s with an estimated value of USD 1m; in July 2003 US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency searched 18 US companies suspected of having exported aircrafts (among which F-5) and missile components to Multicore Ltd, an Iranian front company in London for clandestine procurement of weapons system.

Reverse engeneering of parts for all aircrafts of US origin was organised through some existing aviation companies: HESA/Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries, based at Mehrabad and Isfahan (maintenance, repair of all types of aircrafts), PANHA (repairing and mantaining  military helicopters and power plants,) GHODS (electronic devices) and Bashir Basir Industy (design, manufacture and upgrade of pilotless planes).
Mehrabad AB houses HESA's main aircraft repair, overhaul and manufacturing facilities; it boasted by 1995 the capability to manufacture 55% of engine and fuselage parts for the Northrop F-5s. Important repairs to damaged airframes considerably slowed down HESA's capability to develop a new fighter, the Hazarakhsh (see below).


Initial aim on the way to self sufficency was to manufacture an air-to-air missile, upgrade available avionics and airframes according to necessity. Following projects are known:

Offogh (Horizon)
In July 1999 it was announced that this project had improved the range of the APQ-159 fire control radar from 32 to 64 km in search modus and 16 to 40 km in tracking mode and the radar had been equipped with a 90 off-boresight capability, bringing with the 
Raad project the compatibility to employ Chinese CATIC PL-7, Russian R-60 (AA-8 Aphid) and Sidewinder AIM-9P. 

Earlier, at an exhibition in Tehran during February 1996, one F-5E with an PL-7 missile was put on show.

Fatter project
Manufacturing an air-to-air missile was high on the self-sufficency requirement. This was realised with "Fatter", consisting of an AIM-9P Sidewinder body and motor and completely new Iranian avionics. The missile is in service since 2003, reported availabe in considerable number.

Sattar 1 and Sattar 2 project

These air-to-surface missiles have been revealed mid-1999; the first is said to have a 20 km range and the second is said to have a completely indigenous design, equipped with a Paveway-type search sensor and a range of 30km. These two missiles are intended for use by Iran's F-4E Phantoms and F-5E Tiger Is.

Air-to-air refuelling probe

An air-refuelling probe equipped Northrop F-5E was seen for the first time in April 2009 on an F-5E. This might prelude to the modification of the fleet to extend the rather limited range of this fighter.

Simorgh project
The Simorgh (a winged creature in the shape of a bird) project involved the conversion of stored Northrop F-5A and RF-5As into two seaters (mentioned totally 13)needed due to the shortage of advanced trainer in the Air Force, replacing old Lockheed T-33As.
HESA was charged to realise it, starting with the conversion at its Isfahan factory from around 1991. Northrop documentation was available and clandestine import of avionics and cockpit transparencies from the USA was organized; work on the first airframe started around 1993. Seven are said to have been delivered by the end of the year 2002.

Unconfirmed information state that former Vietnamese Northrop F-5A were received at an unknown date and, at least one, modified to two-seater by HESA for use by the 85th Squadron, renamed Advanced Training Squadron.


        One of two Simorghs shown to the public was at Kish Island air show in October 2002, serial 3_7020b ex
Note 8 on tail showing its home base: 8th Tactical Air Base-Isfahan.
                                                                                                   Photo: Holger Müller

    Photo: Shahram S.
  3-7017B first noted camouflaged Simorgh landing at Tehran-Mehrabad on 17-06-08

     Simorgh 3-7013B landing at Tehran-Mehrabad on 17-06-08, note big "Simorgh" drawing on tail, different to
     3_7020B shown above;
five Simorgh have participated at the fly-past in Tehran on 17-06-08.
Shahram S.

Development and manufacture of "new" aircrafts
The second aim was to develop new aircrafts and avionics; this was realised in several projects. Each was given a name, which, unfortunately, often changed creating some confusion.
Following projects are based on the Northrop F-5 and are probably only ment as technological demonstrators to help development of a much more advanced trainer/fighter named Shafagh, allegedly based on the Russian-Iranian "Project Integral".

Azarakhsh (Lightning) project

This is an improved version of both the basic Northrop F-5E and F-5F developed by Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries (HESA) at Isfahan and, according to initial Iranian statements, completely locally built, but according to some fonts, only original frames having been improved.

In April 1997 the Air Force declared that HESA had successfully designed, built and tested its first fighter aircraft; by late 1997 mass production would start.
This capability was reached after manufacturing F-5E fuselages, avionics etc for refurbishment of damaged airframes. It has strengthened and reinforced composite wings, providing capability to carry 1'000 kg guided bombs, a laser designator and a new, more advanced radar with some Russian parts. Additional improvements are in the possibility to carry locally developed new air-to-ground (Zulfiqar) and Shabaz-1/2 unguided, large caliber rockets in addition to the normal Sidewinders and Chinese PL-7 (7?) air-to-air missiles and bombs. The General Electric J-85 engines are uprated with stronger thrust.
By mid-2000 four aircraft were said to have been undergoing operational tests and, officially, a production of about ten aircrafts per year was foreseen to fulfil an order of 30-35 aircrafts, which it seems never materialised.

A second upgrade, under the designation
Azarakhsh II, seems to include FIAR Grifo-7 radar and ability to fire Chinese PL-7 and AIM-9J missiles; also Chinese PL-10 missiles seems to have been tested.

Two single and 1 double-seater Azarakhsh (of possibly 6 built by 2001) participated to the National Army Day fly-past at Tehran on 17-04-2008, serial 3-7361 is shown hereunder.

Shahram S.


                      3-7174 Only double-seater Azarakhsh known, seen 17-04-08         Photo: MEHR agency

   Photo: unknown
Fully bomb-laden
double-seater Azarakhsh seen on take-off. It possibly is an Northrop F-5F
painted in Azarakhsh colours.

Saegheh (Thunderbolt) project alias "Azarakhsh-2"
Saeqheh is the most advanced F-5 modification project known, probably realised to learn about the effect of twin tail on the aircraft's performance or, most probably, to gain experience for the development of the new twin-tail fighter named Shafagh.

It was developed by MATSA Air Force Technology and Electronic Center and the Shahid Sattari Air Force University of Teheran, starting in 1998, first flight occurring on 30-05-04. Northrop F-5E airframes, rebuilt from scrap, were converted to the new configuration (at least one is a former Vietnamese aircraft). Iranian made, partially digitalized components have replaced some parts of the Emerson APG-159 radar; new platforms have replaced the navigation systems and radios.

The project was transferred to Iranian Aircraft Manufacturing Industries for further development in 2009.

 Photo: FARS Agency
First prototype serial S110-001 in original colours. Visible is the F-18 similar fin and new   square air inlets.

Three prototypes were built and it seems 9 additional modifications from Northrop F-5E were planned,
against the wishes of the Air Force. Only a total of five aircrafts have been sighted till now.

Known is the participation of the first prototype to the exercise "Blow of Zolfaqar"
, which began on 19-08-06, 
carrying out attack missions armed with Multiple Rocket Launcher, as shown here accompanied by an F-5F;
the aircraft was without Sidewinder missile rails at wing tips.

  Two additional prototypes flew from Tehran on 20-09-07. The three aircrafts
  joined the IRAF on 22-09-07 when they made their appearance to fly-by at
  the National Army Day. All three aircrafts participated to the same event in
  the year 2008.

  Photo: FARS News Agency/Hosseini Fatemi

First and second prototype (background)
S110-001/-002 landing at Mehrabad on 22-09-07. Note second
prototype with modified
pitot tube, fin attachment to fuselage, normal round air inlets, and new, slightly
different paint for each aircraft, reminding US Blue Angels aerobatic team colours.
Photo: Shahram S.

Saegeh participated actively at air-shows, among which the one at Bandar Abbas Naval Base on
June 02nd, the air-parade at Teheran on Semptenber 22nd, and to exercise 
on June 22nd to 24th 2009 in Southern Iran.


One Saegeh equipped Squadron has been formed according to an statement made by the Commander of the Air Force made on 24-02-10, both for air defence and ground attack with bombs, rockets and cannons. It seems that this is not a new Squadron, but the aircrafts were integrated in the 23rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Tabriz AB.

Iranian medias stated in January 2015 that mass production of the Saegeh has started, unofficial sources mentioned that 24 Northrop F-5s are planned to be modified.

A camouflaged two-seater, called Segeh II and serialled 3-7368, was shown for the first time at Teheran-Mehrabad in April 2015.