Iran, in honor of the 1979 Revolution’s 36th anniversary, recently unveiled a new supersonic fighter jet called the Saeqeh 2 (Thunderbolt 2). This jet, along with its older cousins the Azarakhsh and the Saeqeh 1, are Iran’s latest attempts to reverse engineer, and improve, the Cold War Era Northrop F-5E. Prior, to the 1979 Revolution, Iran had over a hundred Northrop F-5E’s in serviceand still has about 70 of them today, although most are not flyable.
The F-5E is a solid aircraft and has seen service in dozens of countries around the world. The F-5, power by the J-85-GE-21B turbojet engine, is a small maneuverable fighter with top speed of 1,700 kilometers an hour and a range of about 1,405 kilometers. The F-5E was designed to carry lots of electronics internally and around 3 tons of weapons and two 20mm autocannon internally (in the nose).
The Saeqeh 2 keeps many of the admirable F-5E features and some new modifications. The Saeqeh 2 has an increased range of about 3,000 kilometers and a resigned tail platform, with an added fin, which is said to improve lift. Despite being obsolete by modern standards, the Saeqeh 2, can still be a dangerous foe, under the right circumstances (modern electronics and experienced pilots), and should not be underestimated.
Iran hopes the Saeqeh 2 will eventually serve as both the main fighter-bomber and advanced trainer for its growing air force. The Iranians have already stated they plan to use the Saeqeh for tactical missions and have expressed hope that the aircraft will fill the ground attack role. Iran’s Sunni rivals in Saudi Arabia have for many years been using their F-5’s the same way. With Iran being drawn deeper into the conflicts in Iraq, and elsewhere, there is a possibility that the Saeqeh 2 the may see some action. The Iranian air force has already launched a number of bombing runs into Iraq, against ISIL (Islamic State in Syria and Levant) using their F-4 aircraft and possibly some of their Russian ground attack warplanes. .
The Saeqeh 2 represents the latest in Iran’s expanding domestic aircraft industry. With help from Russia and China, the Iranians hope to form a competitive military aircraft industry. The F-5E was able to be mass produced, at a relative low cost, so the Iranians believe the Saeqeh will as well. The Iranians efforts in this area are very reminiscent of India’s failed attempts at developing its own domestic air industry beginning with the Hal HF-24 Marut. The major difference is that numerous arms embargos make it very difficult for Iran to import key items (like engines) for any locally built jet fighters.
Despite the lack of an export market, the Saeqeh 2 represents a more realistic Iranian mindset regarding its air force. In 2013 the Iranians attempted to amaze the world with a new super high tech stealth fighter jet dubbed the Qaher-313. The Qaher has proven to be nothing more than a showpiece and is seen, by most, to be far beyond Iran’s current capabilities. Unlike the Qaher, the Saeqeh 2 is a more modest, realistic, step forward for the Iranians. This not to say that the Iranians have given up on wonder weapons, just that they might be thinking rationally.
Then again, maybe not as only a few of the Sqeqeh 1 have been spotted, which might indicate unannounced problems with the design or problems in obtaining key components, like engines.