Air Weapons: American Virgin Cloned In Iran

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May 18, 2017: In early 2017 Iran announced that it had recently flight tested Fakour-90 a copy of the American AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missile. Video of the Iranian Fakour-90 missile was shown, with the missile actually being fired from an Iranian F-14A aircraft. Actually Iran had announced the Fakour-90 missile as ready for production in 2011 but since then there was no evidence that such a missile was in use. This sort of thing is nothing new for Iran.

In the 1970s pre-revolution Iran was the only export customer for the American F-14 Tomcat carrier fighter. When the monarchy was replaced in 1979 by what would eventually become a religious dictatorship the F-14 remained in Iranian service along with some AIM-54 missiles that were said to be sabotaged by American technicians before they fled the country. Since then Iran has begged, borrowed and even stolen parts to keep some of the F-14As operational. To demonstrate this Iran had 25 of their F-14s perform a fly-over in the capital (Tehran) during 1985. But three decades later Iran still had about fifty (of the original 79) F-14As but only about a dozen were flyable.

By 2007 it was believed that Iran had managed to keep only about three of its three-decade old F-14A jets to operational status. That in itself was seen as a major accomplishment. By 2011 it appeared that at least a ten more F-14As have been restored. Then the U.S. discovered that China had been supplying Iran with Chinese made parts for its U.S. aircraft. But the Chinese also provided parts from retired F-14s that were sold to authorized dealers (who agreed not to export the parts to Iran.) China has also supplied Iran with custom made F-14 components, for parts that were not obtainable from the United States. Finally, China was discreet about all this, until American investigations of Iran's F-14 support program began to bring out more details. This was partly because more Iranians were fleeing their homeland, and bringing more details of secret programs with them. The Chinese support for the Iranian F-14s has been going on for years and was a major factor in Iran announcing its F-14 refurbishment program in 2002. The Iranians also knew that the U.S. had been retiring their F-14s (the last one went in 2006) and that most of these would be sold for scrap.

During the 1980s the Iranian F-14s were heavily used in the war with Iraq. In the last year of the war, 1988, an F-14 shot down an Iraqi jet, one of over 80 knocked down by their F-14s since 1980. That much is known, because there were witnesses and other evidence. Less well known is that Iran established a smuggling operation to obtain F-14 parts, and manufactured some itself. Russia (and later China) also helped with some custom made parts and refurbishment services. But going into the 1990s, fewer and fewer Iranian F-14s were seen in the air. Whenever an F-14 took off it was big news, and difficult to hide. Word got around, and with hundreds of thousands of Iranians living in exile, the word was passed on. Thus a 2002 claim that 25 Iranian F-14s were operational was not taken seriously. But by 2011 more F-14s were seen in the air, but don't expect another major, or even minor, flyover in Tehran. It was at that point Iran announced the Fakour-90 without mentioning that their supply of U.S. made AIM-54s ran out in the late 1990s.

The U.S. Navy’s AIM-54 was withdrawn from service in late 2004. The Phoenix entered service in 1974, after about a decade of development. The Phoenix was quite high tech for its time. AIM-54 could hit a target up to 200 kilometers distant. The missile was designed solely for use on the F-14 fighter, which contained the powerful radar and fire control system required to make the Phoenix work. The F-14 could track 24 targets at once, and fire six missiles, in rapid succession, at six different targets. In the first full test, four out of six targets, all over 80 kilometers distant, were shot down. The half-ton missile traveled at a speed of over 1,300 meters a second and had a 62 kg (135 pound) warhead. It was an expensive missile, costing about $1.5 million dollars each (in 2017 dollars). During the 1980s the AIM-54 underwent upgrades, mainly in its electronics. Over 5,000 were built, but AIM-54 never shot down anything in combat. There are unconfirmed reports of Iranian F-14s using Phoenix missiles to down Iraqi aircraft during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, and in several other incidents. Iran was the only foreign nation to receive the AIM-54 (285 of them). One U.S. Navy AIM-54 was fired during the 1991 Gulf War, at an Iraqi helicopter. It missed. The Phoenix was not designed to take down helicopters. The main target was to be Russian bombers trying to get close enough to American aircraft carriers to launch their anti-ship missiles. This it did very well in numerous tests. That scenario become moot when the Cold War ended in 1991. So Phoenix died a virgin. Other countries still pose the same kind of threat Phoenix was designed to handle, but they can be dealt with using the more modern air-to-air missiles like the AMRAAM. This is what the Fakour-90 appears to be duplicating or, more likely, similar Russian and Chinese missiles it has had access to.

 

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