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) project
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.
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
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
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
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
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
R-F5A. Note 8 on tail showing its home base: 8th Tactical Air Base-Isfahan.
Photo: Holger Müller www.mig-21.de
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.
Photo: Shahram S.
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
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.
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 Milad-e-Noor-e-Velayat
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.