July 7, 2011:
When the Iranian monarchy was overthrown in 1979, the Iranian armed forces had some 200 helicopters of American manufacture. These were mostly 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 in the American armed forces. The Iranians have since operated a worldwide smuggling operation to obtain replacement parts for their Bell helicopters, while Iranian firms learned how to manufacture many components locally.
Since the 1990s, Iran been building reverse-engineered Bell 205, 206 and 214 helicopters. These copies were renamed Shahed 276 and 278, and Shabaviz 275 and 2061. The Iranians also developed the Panha 2091, a rebuilt AH-1J helicopter gunship. Two years ago, Iran introduced a gunship version of the the Bell 206, called the Shahed 285.
Components for the original Bell choppers, and the copycat models, are obtained from local manufacturers, Chinese and Russian suppliers and smugglers of Western parts. The U.S. is paying more attention to the smugglers trying to get helicopter components, as these are used to maintain a force of nearly 200 Iranian helicopters, many of them the original Bell models, or Iranian copies.