At a military exhibition in Tehran over the weekend which was attended by President Hassan Rouhani and Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, Iran offered the world a glimpse of its new Qaher ('Conquerer') F-313 stealth fighter jet. Iranian media showed off a prototype of the plane taxiing along a runway, seemingly indicating that work on the new aircraft was well underway.
First unveiled in early 2013, Iran's prospective 5th Generation fighter plane has since received a slew of upgrades. For example, while the 2013 version had one engine, the latest iteration of the plane appears to have two, similarly to the US's F-22 Raptor. The size of the cockpit also appears to have been increased, with other possible improvements under the hood.
For many years after 2013, many mostly Western defense analysts and journalists derided the F-313, claiming that it was merely a 'model' or a 'cheap copy' of US planes. The weekend's demonstration suggests that Iran is set on proving otherwise.
As for the Qaher F-313, Iranian media says that the aircraft has begun the test phase.
Ahmad Vahidi, former defense minister who presided over the introduction of the F-313 concept in 2013, told media that the plane will have stealth capability, and from the perspective of form factor and appearance, stands alongside the most advanced fighters in the world. On the latter account, Iranian experts themselves have indicated that this may be too ambitious a boast to make, since the technical characteristics of the plane have yet to be demonstrated.
"At the moment, according to the characteristics which have been presented, our military experts and other experts have said that this aircraft bears some similarity to the well-known American plane, the F-35," Abshenas noted. "It's too early to judge at the moment, of course, because full-scale testing has yet to be carried out."
"But in any case, for us it is already a great achievement that Iran has itself designed and built such an important combat system – a prospective 5th generation fighter," the observer stressed. "After all, as soon as the country gains the capability to produce the necessary armaments itself, it will no longer face the pressure of [dependence on] other nations."
Iran's new Qaher F313 "stealth fighter" unveiled. Interesting concept. pic.twitter.com/TnYsvqlmbm— Haidar Sumeri (@IraqiSecurity) 15 апреля 2017 г.
Abshenas recalled that "before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran had access to the most advanced US military aircraft technologies which existed at the time. Practice showed, during the Iran-Iraq War, that when we needed spare parts and components for the US-made combat aircraft, the Americans refused to supply them due to international sanctions. This became a big problem for our defense system, which was once considered among the most powerful in the world. It was at this time that the idea first arose that we must try to satisfy the needs of our defense complex," including in the area of combat aircraft.
As far as the plane's unique, bird-like design is concerned, Abshenas noted that Iranian engineers "had been following very closely the advanced technologies that appeared on the world market," over the years, "studying prototypes, and trying to recreate the necessary components themselves. The result of these efforts is evident: a new generation fighter aircraft, the F-313, fully equipped with the latest technology. We are setting the task for ourselves of making this plane up to par with the most powerful and modern weapons systems in the world," the analyst concluded.
Indeed, the creation and production of a functional 5th-generation fighter aircraft would allow Iran to join the ranks of a very select group of countries. Along with the US, Russia and China, only India, Japan and Turkey can afford the luxury of doing so.
In any case, no matter how much the Iranians invest into their F-313, it's unlikely that costs will be able to climb as much as they have for the F-35. According to the US Defense Department, that program is expected to cost US taxpayers over a trillion dollars over 50 years, making it the most expensive weapons systems ever created.