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Iran Reinvents Kiowa
by James Dunnigan
June 19, 2009

Iran has reverse engineered and militarized the U.S. Bell 206 helicopter, and introduced it as the Shahed 285 armed helicopter. This is a 1.4 ton helicopter, using mainly Russian parts, armed with a turret mounted machine-gun in front, and rocket pods on stubby wings. There is also a navy version, which carries the same weapons. The Shahed 285 is not able to carry the heavy anti-ship missiles Iran has.

The U.S. also has a militarized version of the Bell 206, called the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. This one ton helicopter has a top speed of 226 kilometers per hour, and a range of 241 kilometers. It has a mast-mounted sight, which carries a powerful FLIR (heat sensing camera) and a laser designator. The OH-58D is lightly armed, and usually only carries four Hellfire (anti-vehicle) or Stinger (anti-aircraft) missiles, or 14 70mm unguided (or guided) rockets. Planned upgrades include new, and improved, electronics, but also the possibility of a much needed new engine. Over the decades, the new equipment has been added, without an increase in engine power. For a scout helicopter, the OH-58 was getting more sluggish as it got older. The U.S. is seeking a replacement for its OH-58s, which are base on 1960s era technology.

Iran is proclaiming their Shahed 285 armed helicopters as Iranian developed, but the reality is that this is yet another example of how they recycle old technology and claim it's all an Iranian breakthrough. All this hype is nothing new. It's been going on for years. Last year, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), announced that they had flight tested a new, Iranian made, helicopter gunship. They also announced a new UAV with a range of 2,000 kilometers. Two years ago, the Iranians showed off a new Iranian made jet fighter, which appeared to be a make-work project for unemployed engineers. It's a bunch of rearranged parts on an old U.S. made F-5 (which was roughly equivalent to a 1950s era MiG-21). The new fighter, like so many other Iranian weapons projects, is more for PR than for improving military power.

If you go back and look at the many Iranian announcements of newly developed, high tech, weapons, all you find is a photo op for a prototype. Production versions of these weapons rarely show up.   Iranians know that, while the clerics and politicians talk a tough game, they rarely do anything. Even Iranian support of Islamic terrorism has been far less effective than the rhetoric. The Iranians have always been cautious, which is one reason Arabs fear them. When the Iranians do make their move, it tends to be decisive. But at the moment, the Iranians have no means to make a decisive move. Their military is mostly myth, having been run down by decades of sanctions, and the disruptions of the 1980s war with Iraq. Their most effective weapon is bluster, and, so far, it appears to be working.


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