May 22, 2012:
Iran recently announced that three more locally produced Saeqeh jet fighters had been delivered to the Iranian Air Force. This would give Iran about fifteen of these aircraft. Last year Iran announced that they had put into service their first squadron of twelve Saeqehsrs. It was six years ago that Iran displayed a modified American F-5 fighter and proclaimed this new "Saeqeh" as similar to the American F-18 jet fighter. This is not the first time Iran has run a stunt like this. But even with a redesigned tail and better electronics, the 1960s era F-5 is still a low cost, and low performance, aircraft. The Saeqeh is not the first Iranian attempt to rebuild F-5s. In the 1990s, they built a clone of the F-5E, calling it the Azarakhsh. There are apparently four of these in service, and further modifications of F-5 airframes produced the Saeqeh.
The Iranians had dozens of damaged F-5s from their war with Iraq, along with many more elderly F-5s that are un-flyable or barely so. Three decades ago Iran had nearly 300 F-5 aircraft but many were destroyed in combat with Iraq during the 1980s, or due to accidents, and most of the remainder just wore out.
The F-5E, the most recent F-5 model the Iranians had when the Islamic revolution took over in 1979, is an 11 ton aircraft, with a max speed of 1,700 kilometers an hour, and a range of some 1,400 kilometers. It was armed with two 20mm cannon and could carry about three tons of missiles and bombs. The Iranians have taken the basic F-5 frame and rebuilt it to hold two Russian engines. The Chinese did the same thing and produced the J-8 (a twin engine MiG-21) that turned out to be not worth the effort.
Although the Iranians are using Russian components (if only because these are better than Chinese ones), they probably had technical assistance (for a price) from China. The Chinese have a lot of experience reverse engineering Russian warplanes and developing variations. The Chinese are getting away from that because they finally realized that all they ended up with was a lot of crap fighters. Now they are building a new air force with expensive, and high tech, fighters imported from Russia, or built under license (or just copied illegally).
The Iranians have become obsessed with these "propaganda weapons," where they hack something together from an existing Russian or American system and proclaim it to be a breakthrough weapon "designed and manufactured in Iran." It's all rather pathetic, and it all began during the 1980s, when Iran and Iraq were fighting a nasty war. Some of the hacks worked, after a fashion. Iran created a longer range SCUD missile by the simple expedient of lengthening the missile with a larger fuel tank. This changed the flight characteristics of the missile but since these things were being fired at city size (as in Baghdad) targets, it didn't matter. Actually, the Iranians didn't really need the longer range missiles because Baghdad was pretty close to the Iranian border. Iran actually got the technology for these SCUD mods from North Korea but Iranian press releases always touted the achievement as being the result of Iranian scientists and engineers.