Iran Claims it’s Rolled out a Stealth Fighter Jet, But Is it Real?

Iran’s newest fighter jet, Qaher-313 is unveiled by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accompanied by top officials during a ceremony, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. (AP)

Iran has unveiled a new domestically designed and manufactured fighter jet that it says has stealth capabilities, a claim that aviation experts are already questioning.

Iranian authorities rolled out a single-seat bomber, the Qaher F-313 (“Dominant”), on Saturday to much fanfare, including an appearance by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who assured the jet is for defensive purposes only, a claim reminiscent of Iranian assurances that its nuclear program is designed for peaceful purposes.

The Tehran Times reports that Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi detailed some of the plane’s capabilities which he claims include:

•    avoiding radar detection
•    flying at low altitudes
•    carrying advanced domestically-manufactured weapons
•    taking off and landing on short runways
•    able to combat other aircraft and targets on the ground

According to Russia Today, Ahmadinejad said at the ceremony: “Iran’s defense might does not serve purposes of expansionism and aggression against other countries.”

“This project carries the message of brotherhood, peace, and security and it doesn’t pose any threat to anyone. There is no intention to interfere in any other country’s affairs,” he said.

On Iranian state television Saturday, Ahmadinejad touted Iran’s scientific achievements, even in the face of international sanctions: “Now the speed of Iran’s development in science and technology does not depend on circumstances, it depends on our will.”

“We should set higher targets. We see that it is possible, we have the capabilities,” he added.

The Tehran Times writes that the aircraft reflects Iran’s “significant achievements in the field of aerospace technology.” This as the official in charge of the project, Hassan Parvaneh, told Iran’s state-run television, “Its shape and structure is completely unique and peerless.”

The stealth claims are eliciting skepticism as they come on the heels of Iran’s admission that one of two official photos of the monkey it says it sent into space last week showed the wrong animal. Iran insists it successfully sent a monkey to space and returned it safely to Iran.

Iran Claims it’s Rolled out a Stealth Fighter Jet, But Is it Real?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, listens to an unidentified pilot during a ceremony to unveil Iran’s newest fighter jet, the Qaher-313, in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday (photo credit: AP/Mehr News Agency/Younes Khani)

The Israeli paper Maariv interviewed aeronautical expert Tal Inbar who says the aircraft looked like a model made of fiberglass or cardboard. He said, “It’s not a plane, because that’s not how a real plane looks.”

“Iran doesn’t have the ability to build planes. Plain and simple,” Inbar added.

The Times of Israel spoke with an Israeli aerospace engineer on condition of anonymity who had a slightly different take. It reports the engineer “said that while the plane displayed by the Iranian press on Saturday was clearly not a working prototype, it integrated advanced stealth design with extreme maneuverability.”

He also believes that even though the plane can’t drop bombs, it could potentially operate as an interceptor to defend Iranian skies from foreign bombing threats. “They need a defensive interceptor that gives them the element of surprise, and it is big enough to carry real air-to-air missiles,” he said.

David Cenciotti, a pilot, Italian Air Force veteran and aviation reporter who runs the blog The Aviationist examined the photos and video of the new Qaher F-313 and is asking some big questions as to the viability of the plane. He writes:

Indeed, based on the first photographs released by the FARS News Agency, the new stealthy jet has a really peculiar design. It features hard edges and those distinctive edges and angle of the U.S. F-22 and the twin tail shape much similar to that of the F-35 Lightning II. […]

The canopy material is at least odd (based on its transparency, it looks like plexiglass or something like that).

The cockpit seems to be basic (a bit too much for a modern plane – note the lack of wirings behind the front panel and the presence of few instruments, some of those similar to those equipping small private planes…).

The nose section is so small almost no radar could fit in it.

The air intakes are extremely small (they remind those of current drones/unmanned combat aerial vehicles) whereas the engine section lacks any kind of nozzle: engine afterburners could melt the entire jet.

Iran Claims it’s Rolled out a Stealth Fighter Jet, But Is it Real?

Iranian pilot in cockpit of Iran’s new fighter jet (Photo from official Iranian news agency FARS)

Based on the above photo of an Iranian pilot sitting in the cockpit, Cenciotti concludes, “the aircraft is way too small.” Echoing the Israeli aeronautical expert Tal Inbar, Cenciotti also believes it’s “nothing more than a large mock up model” that can’t fit a real pilot.

Cenciotti also examined this video which alleges to show the Qaher F-313 in flight. He also believes “the depicted plane flies is suspect. It seems a radio-controlled scale model more than a modern fighter jet.”

Even if the aircraft doesn’t live up to the Iranian description, Cenciotti and Robert Johnson wrote in an article in Business Insider that it might one day be used to attack the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf:

Perhaps Iran isn’t imagining a fleet of stealthy fighter/bombers, based on some design similar to this new display, but a few dozen single seat craft with an array of missiles, a couple guns, and the ability to fly low and slow over the Gulf.

The Associated Press from Tehran provides more background on the aircraft and Iran’s military industries:

The Qaher is one of several aircraft designs rolled out by the Iranian military since 2007. Tehran has repeatedly claimed to have developed advanced military technologies in recent years but its claims cannot be independently verified because the country does not release technical details of its arsenals.

The Islamic republic launched a self-sufficiency military program in the 1980s to compensate for a Western weapons embargo that banned export of military technology and equipment to Iran. Since 1992, Iran has produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles, torpedoes, drones and fighter planes.[…]

Iran’s English-language state Press TV said Qaher was similar to the American-made F/A-18, an advanced fighter capable of dogfighting as well as penetrating enemy air defenses to strike ground targets.

Physically, Press TV said, the aircraft resembles the F-5E/F Tiger II, a much older American design that Iran has had in its arsenal since it was supplied to the U.S.-allied regime of the Shah before Iran’s 1979 revolution.

The aircraft’s introduction is one of several ways in which Iran is marking the “Ten-Day Dawn” commemorating the Iranian Revolution 34 years ago.

Besides the alleged monkey space mission and the stealth fighter, Iran announced it will unveil upgraded versions of two domestically designed tanks – the Zolfaqar and Samsam – on Monday.