Over the last few days Iranian defense and military leaders have announced that they will soon unveil a slew of new domestically built weapon systems, including submarines, advanced torpedoes, surveillance and possibly combat UAVs, fighter jets and various kinds of missiles.
Shortly after taking over the Defense Ministry, for instance, Hossein Dehqan announced that Iran would be unveiling a domestically built submarine sometime in the next three months.
“[The] launch of Fateh Submarine is amongst our 100-day programs,” Dehqan said on Wednesday, the IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency reported.
Iran already operates a decent size submarine fleet. It launched its third 4,000-ton Russian-built Kilo-class submarine last September. Tehran’s first domestically-built submarine, the 400-ton Nahang vessel entered into service back in 2006, although it hasn’t built anymore of them since. The Iranian Navy—which is divided between the regular Navy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Navy— also operates between a dozen and nineteen 150-ton mini submarines that are modeled off of the North Korean Yugo and Sango-class submarines.
According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington, DC-based think tank that closely monitors Iran’s naval activities, the Fateh-class submarine displaces 600-tons and is capable of “firing large torpedoes, surface-to-surface missiles, and laying mines.” In the past Iranian officials have claimed that it will have both passive and active sonar, submarine-launched surface missiles, and a hydrogen-oxygen fuel-cell propulsion system, which is a leading technology used for air independent propulsion (AIP). This would make the Fateh submarine virtually silent and able to stay submerged for extended periods of time. This is a potentially harrowing prospect for U.S. naval planners given Iran’s strategic location atop the Strait of Hormuz.
Iranian officials have also indicated that they intend to eventually field three Fateh-class submarines before turning to larger indigenously designed and manufactured submarines. ISW, however, has previously forecast that only one Fateth-class submarine will be built as a prototype before Iran turned to these larger vessels.
On Wednesday the Lieutenant Commander of the Iranian Navy, Rear Admiral Gholam Reza Khadem Biqam, also said the military was in the process of upgrading its smart torpedoes.
Biqam added that Iran has developed new types of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for both surveillance and combat purposes. Fars News quoted him as saying, “At present, the Navy is in possession of drones in proper sizes and with good range that are used for our intelligence domination in the region.”
Iran has long operated drones, some of which it has provided to proxy groups like Hezbollah. Its first long-range drone, Karrar, was first rolled out in 2010 and last September it unveiled another new domestically built UAV, the Shahed 129, which it claimed could fly for 24-hours straight.
Then, back in April of this year, Iran unveiled four new types of drones— Azem-2, Mohajer B, Hazem 3 and Sarir H110— around the time of Armed Forces Day. Like its previous UAV designs, some of these were believed to be based off Israeli technology, such as the Hunter UAV. Iran claimed during the April unveiling that it was already operating tens of the Sarir UAVs, and that the drone has stealth technology and is “capable of carrying cameras and air-to-air missiles.” Many foreign defense analysts viewed these claims with skepticism. The same was true of the Hamaseh High Altitude Long Endurance drone it rolled out the following month.
Furthering obscuring matters, the Fars News report from this week quoted an Iranian military officer as saying back in June that Tehran would unveil a new type of drone, Hazem 3, on “Air Defense Day” this year, which falls on September 1st. This seemed to contradict the Iranian media reports in April which said that the Hazem 3 was unveiled then.
In any case, Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh, a senior Air Force official, said on Wednesday that Iran’s Air Force has made, “good progress in all the various dimensions of electronic warfare, including offensive and defensive areas.” This referred in part to Iran’s claims to have used electronic capabilities to take control of an advanced U.S. drone, Lockheed Martin’s RQ-170 Sentinel, which was conducting surveillance over Iran. The aircraft landed in Iran in December 2011. U.S. officials have also said Iran has stepped up its cyber attacks on the West and Arab states over the past year or so.
Nasirzadeh also announced on Wednesday that Iran would soon unveil an advanced fighter jet, which he indicated might be merely a trainer jet.
“Manufacturing this military aircraft will make us fully needless of purchasing jet fighters from abroad, specially for training purposes,” the Brigadier General was quoted by the Iranian press as saying. Nasirzadeh also told reporters that the aircraft was being jointly developed by the Iranian Air Force and Aviation Industries Organization, which Iran media reports said is affiliated with the Defense Ministry.
Iranian officials have repeatedly alluded to two different training jets they claim to be building, the Kowsar 88 and Azarakhsh. Last December, for instance, one military official said: “Kowsar 88 and Azarakhsh training jets are among the projects that are underway in this regard. The conceptual studies have been done and the blueprints have been fully prepared and we are witnessing very good progress in this field.”
Iran has previously built two types of fighter jets, the most recent one being the Saeqeh, which most foreign defense analysts believe was reversed engineered from Northrop’s F-5 Freedom Fighter. In February of this year it also unveiled a prototype of the Qaher 313, which it claimed was a new indigenously built stealth fighter jet. The Q-313 was immediately ridiculed by
people with eyes defense analysts for its unworkable aerodynamics. It continues to be the butt of jokes among defense wonks.
Consequentially, the work horses of Iran’s Air Force continue to be American-made aircraft leftover from the Shah era, including F-14s, F-4s, and the F-5s that the Saeqeh is derived from. Iran has also acquired limited numbers of Russian and Chinese aircraft, such as Moscow’s MiG-29s and Su-24s. Some of the MiG-29s that Iran operates, as well as its French-built F-1 Mirages, were impounded from the Iraqi Air Force during the first Gulf War.
Lastly, Brigadier General Nasirzadeh announced that Iran’s Air Force, again in collaboration with the Defense Ministry’s Aviation Industries Organization, is producing a new generation of air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. Few details were given but the Air Force officer did say that some of these missiles had already been tested while others would be before the end of the Iranian year in March of 2014.
Nasirzadeh told reporters that the Air Force has made “good progress in all the various dimensions of electronic warfare, including offensive and defensive areas.”
Iran has been developing an indigenous missile production capability since the 1980s, which is one of its more advanced areas. During the 1980s and most the 1990s, Iran was helped extensively in this effort by China. However, under intense U.S. pressure China agreed in 1997 to end its nuclear and much of its missile cooperation with Iran. Some analysts believe Beijing has continued to provide assistance to Iran in building up a domestic missile capability, either directly or through third parties like North Korea.
In any case, Iran’s announcements this week should be viewed with a healthy degree of skepticism. Tehran is known for making wildly exaggerated and demonstrable false claims regarding its defense capabilities, and these statements may be no exception.