January 26, 2006:
Nuclear weapons have gotten a lot of the hype in recent years, but it Iran has been pushing for an indigenous arms industry ever since the Iranian military was forced to deal with an embargo, and a loss of access to spare parts in the wake of the 1979 revolution and the storming of the American embassy in Tehran. Iran's military has been plagued by a great deal of shortages in spare parts (something to be expected when you tick off the country where you bought the equipment). Jury-rigging (like using the I-HAWK and Standard surface-to-air missiles from fighters) and black-market deals solved part of the problem, but ultimately, Iran needed to get its own planes.
Buying from Russia brought some relief, but Iran wants to build more weapons locally. They are trying to build a variety of weapons on their own. Most notable are three aircraft projects: The Azarakhsh and Owj, which are variants of the F-5, and the Shafaq, a light-attack plane and advanced trainer. The use of the F-5 as the basis for the Azarakhsh and Owj is very understandable. It is probably the simplest aircraft in Iranian service, and lends itself to easy reverse engineering. This is what Iran has done with the Bell 206 and Bell 214 helicopters, versions of the OH-58A/C and UH-1 that were replaced in the 1980s by the OH-58D and the UH-60. Iran has also managed to develop an upgrade to its force of AH-1J helicopters (again, a system largely replaced in the 1980s by the AH-1S and AH-64A).
Iran is also developing two tanks: the Tosan light tank and the Zulfiqar main battle tank. The Tosan is armed with a 90mm gun, and allegedly can travel long distances without wearing out its running gear (tanks are normally carried long distances by heavy, flatbed, trucks, to spare the tank excess wear.) The Zulfiqar is a hybrid of parts from M48, M60, and T-72 main battle tanks (all of which are in Iranian service). The Zulfiqar is armed with a 125mm gun like those used on the Russian T-72/T-80 series main battle tanks. Iran has also been upgrading Type 59 main battle tanks to the T-72Z standard, which involves a 125mm gun and an improved fire-control system. Iran has also developed an indigenous IFV, the Cobra BMT-2, which uses either a 30-millimeter gun or a ZU-23 twin 23-millimeter gun mount. Iran also manufactures a version of the Chinese WZ501 infantry fighting vehicle, known as Boragh. These vehicles are armed with a 73-millimeter gun and the Red Arrow anti-tank missile.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Iranians may have exaggerated the progress they have made on these systems. In particular, there is a dearth of solid information on the aircraft programs. There is even a chance that the some of the Iranian systems may be little more than vaporware. This is not unusual. During World War II, American intelligence assigned codenames to aircraft that were more imaginary than real. In this case, Iran seems to be working on these planes, but they are nowhere near ready to enter service. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)