Why Iran Isn’t Keen to Replace its Ageing F-4D/E and F-5E Fighters: Preserving Domestic Industry at a High Cost

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Following the expiry of a United Nations arms embargo connected Iran successful October 2020, it was wide speculated that the Iranian Air Force could statesman to receive caller combatant aircraft from overseas to regenerate the progressively obsolete Vietnam War epoch American craft that proceed to signifier the backbone of its fleet. Iran’s 2 superior fighters contiguous are the F-4D/E Phantom and F-5E Tiger II, which are modernised variants of airframes that archetypal entered work successful 1960 and 1962 respectively and were superseded by the F-15 and F-16 respectively successful the 1970s. Of Iran’s 18 combatant squadrons, 11 are comprised of F-4s and F-5s with astir 90 F-5s and 70 F-4s presently successful work for a full of 160 airframes. Both craft initially belonged to the 2nd generation, but the modernised variants acquired by Iran were considered 3rd procreation fighters with the F-4s imported with AIM-7 Sparrow missiles to supply an precocious beyond ocular scope engagement capability. Although the craft person been extensively upgraded domestically, they person been considered outdated for aerial to aerial combat since the 1980s with the F-4s taking losses successful insignificant clashes with the Royal Saudi Air Force’s F-15s that decennary wherever they were outmatched. While Iran’s imaginable adversaries person modernised their aerial warfare capabilities considerably implicit the past 4 decades, with the U.S. fielding 5th procreation fighters since 2005, the capabilities of the F-4 and F-5 person lone grown much obsolete. 

Modernisation of Iranian F-4 and F-5 fighters has focused connected improving their capabilities for roles different than aerial to aerial combat, with F-4s successful peculiar optimised for aerial to crushed and anti shipping missions. They person for the erstwhile relation been equipped with domestically developed precision guided bombs, which wherever demonstrated successful combat by Iranian drones connected onslaught missions successful Syria arsenic good arsenic successful constricted strikes by F-4s connected Islamic State insurgents successful Iraq. For anti shipping the fighters person used a range of Chinese cruise rocket designs which person been produced nether licence successful Iran since the 2000s, and instrumentality vantage of the F-4’s precocious endurance, ample carrying capableness and precocious velocity and altitude. While the F-4 and F-5 are accelerated ageing, it remains uncertain whether the Iranian Air Force is successful information intending to signifier them retired of work contempt affordable 4th procreation overseas craft being available.

Although the fighters whitethorn stay somewhat viable successful onslaught roles, the property of the airframes which are some worn retired and built with agelong outdated manufacturing techniques mean operational costs peculiarly for the heavier F-4 are importantly higher than a modern lightweight multirole combatant purchased from overseas specified arsenic the Chinese J-10 oregon Sino-Pakistani JF-17 oregon the Russian mean value MiG-29M. The discrepancy successful operational costs means it whitethorn successful information beryllium cheaper for Iran to acquisition caller fighters alternatively than clasp the aged ones successful service, which to galore is the astir almighty statement for a overseas acquisition. 

Despite the benefits of replacing the F-4 and F-5, including expected important savings from reduced operational costs, the Iranian Air Force whitethorn take to clasp its bequest fighters for a fig of reasons. The superior crushed is the the Iranian defence sector, having worked with F-4s for adjacent to 50 years and F-5s for adjacent to 60, is not lone highly acquainted with the designs but has developed an full manufacture to supply maintenance, upgrades, spare parts, avionics upgrades and each different services to proceed operating the fighters. Should it modulation to a overseas combatant design, adjacent 1 with elemental attraction specified arsenic the JF-17, this manufacture and precocious grade of aforesaid reliance would beryllium mislaid and the Iranian Air Force would go dependant connected overseas sources for spare parts, aerial launched munitions, and each mode of upgrades.

The F-4 and F-5 person efficaciously go Iranian indigenous fighters, to the grade that the second is adjacent being manufactured successful the state pursuing years agelong reverse engineering efforts connected the archetypal plan with the improved indigenous derivative named Kowsar. Iranian authoritative sources person announced that the state is developing a caller generation of heavier fighters, and this could let home manufacture to modulation distant from servicing the F-4 and F-5 to physique and work the caller indigenous aircraft, modernising the fleet portion inactive maintaining home industry. While this is not expected to beryllium arsenic outgo effectual arsenic acquiring an already developed overseas craft specified arsenic the J-10C oregon JF-17, Iran's longstanding accent connected aforesaid reliance means this whitethorn good beryllium much favourable. Ultimately portion Iran whitethorn good marque acquisitions of overseas combatant aircraft, astir apt the Chinese J-10C which could signifier caller elite units, it is improbable to discontinue the F-4 and F-5 wholly for a overseas design.