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Could Iran’s air force ever be a threat to Israel or Europe?

In Iran’s endless drive to prove that its military makes it a great world power, the Iranian media showed off three locally built “Kowsar” fighter jets this week. They were delivered to the armed forces by Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami. Iran claims it has been building “domestically produced” jets since 2018.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has sought to spotlight Iran’s air force in recent comments, claiming that if an arms embargo is ended, Iran’s expanded jet fighters could pose a threat.

Pompeo wrote on Wednesday that if the UN arms embargo were to expire in October, Iran “will be able to buy new fighter aircraft like Russia’s SU-30 and China’s J-10.”

These lethal aircraft could threaten Europe and Asia, the US says. In theory, they could also threaten Israel.

Pompeo’s map of Iranian aircraft threats shows that the J-10 could make a one-way 1,648-km. flight and reach Israel. But being unable to return to Iran, it would be the end of the Iranian air force if it embarked on this journey.

The SU-30 could get to Italy on a one-way mission. That is enough gas for the Iranian pilot to defect. And that likely is the only reason an Iranian pilot would take a precious aircraft on a one-way mission: to flee Iran. An Iraqi pilot actually did that in 1966, flying his MiG-21 to Israel to flee Iraq.

A more reasonable discussion about Iran’s air power reveals that its great achievements are in drone technology, not aircraft. HESA, the corporation that makes some of Iran’s aircraft, is built on an American Textron factory that once made Bell helicopters in Iran.

It is basically good at making copies of 1970s American equipment. For instance, the Kowsar is a copy of an American Northrop F-5, first built in the 1950s. The engineering team at HESA has also managed to copy a Bell 206 helicopter and rename it a Shahed 274.

What HESA has been more innovative at is making drones, such as the Ababil. Iranian drones have struck Saudi Arabia and have been given to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah. They are a serious threat to the region; Iran’s air force is not.

Header: Iran’s domestically-produced Saegheh fighter jets perform a flypast during a military parade to commemorate the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war in Tehran September 22, 2007
(photo credit: REUTERS/MORTEZA NIKOUBAZL)

Original: Seth J. Frantzman – JPost