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Why Iran Isn’t Keen to Replace its Ageing F-4D/E and F-5E Fighters: Preserving Domestic Industry at a High Cost

Abid123

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Following the expiry of a United Nations arms embargo on Iran in October 2020, it was widely speculated that the Iranian Air Force could begin to receive new fighter aircraft from abroad to replace the increasingly obsolete Vietnam War era American aircraft that continue to form the backbone of its fleet. Iran’s two primary fighters today are the F-4D/E Phantom and F-5E Tiger II, which are modernised variants of airframes that first entered service in 1960 and 1962 respectively and were superseded by the F-15 and F-16 respectively in the 1970s. Of Iran’s 18 fighter squadrons, 11 are comprised of F-4s and F-5s with approximately 90 F-5s and 70 F-4s currently in service for a total of 160 airframes. Both aircraft initially belonged to the second generation, but the modernised variants acquired by Iran were considered third generation fighters with the F-4s imported with AIM-7 Sparrow missiles to provide an advanced beyond visual range engagement capability. Although the aircraft have been extensively upgraded domestically, they have been considered outdated for air to air combat since the 1980s with the F-4s taking losses in minor clashes with the Royal Saudi Air Force’s F-15s that decade where they were outmatched. While Iran’s potential adversaries have modernised their aerial warfare capabilities considerably over the past four decades, with the U.S. fielding fifth generation fighters since 2005, the capabilities of the F-4 and F-5 have only grown more obsolete.


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Iranian F-4 Phantoms

Modernisation of Iranian F-4 and F-5 fighters has focused on improving their capabilities for roles other than air to air combat, with F-4s in particular optimised for air to ground and anti shipping missions. They have for the former role been equipped with domestically developed precision guided bombs, which where demonstrated in combat by Iranian drones on strike missions in Syria as well as in limited strikes by F-4s on Islamic State insurgents in Iraq. For anti shipping the fighters have used a range of Chinese cruise missile designs which have been produced under license in Iran since the 2000s, and take advantage of the F-4’s high endurance, large carrying capacity and high speed and altitude. While the F-4 and F-5 are fast ageing, it remains uncertain whether the Iranian Air Force is in fact intending to phase them out of service despite affordable fourth generation foreign aircraft being available.

Although the fighters may remain somewhat viable in strike roles, the age of the airframes which are both worn out and built with long outdated manufacturing techniques mean operational costs particularly for the heavier F-4 are significantly higher than a modern lightweight multirole fighter purchased from abroad such as the Chinese J-10 or Sino-Pakistani JF-17 or the Russian medium weight MiG-29M. The discrepancy in operational costs means it may in fact be cheaper for Iran to purchase new fighters rather than retain the old ones in service, which to many is the most powerful argument for a foreign acquisition.


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JF-17 Block 3 Fighter

Despite the benefits of replacing the F-4 and F-5, including expected substantial savings from reduced operational costs, the Iranian Air Force may choose to retain its legacy fighters for a number of reasons. The primary reason is the the Iranian defence sector, having worked with F-4s for close to 50 years and F-5s for close to 60, is not only highly familiar with the designs but has developed an entire industry to provide maintenance, upgrades, spare parts, avionics upgrades and all other services to continue operating the fighters. Should it transition to a foreign fighter design, even one with simple maintenance such as the JF-17, this industry and high degree of self reliance would be lost and the Iranian Air Force would become dependant on foreign sources for spare parts, air launched munitions, and all manner of upgrades.

The F-4 and F-5 have effectively become Iranian indigenous fighters, to the extent that the latter is even being manufactured in the country following years long reverse engineering efforts on the original design with the improved indigenous derivative named Kowsar. Iranian official sources have announced that the country is developing a new generation of heavier fighters, and this could allow domestic industry to transition away from servicing the F-4 and F-5 to build and service the new indigenous aircraft, modernising the fleet while still maintaining domestic industry. While this is not expected to be as cost effective as acquiring an already developed foreign aircraft such as the J-10C or JF-17, Iran's longstanding emphasis on self reliance means this may well be more favourable. Ultimately while Iran may well make acquisitions of foreign fighter aircraft, most likely the Chinese J-10C which could form new elite units, it is unlikely to retire the F-4 and F-5 entirely for a foreign design.

Source: https://militarywatchmagazine.com/article/iran-not-eager-replace-f4-f5e
 

CLUMSY

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Yeah but so many f14s of the IRIAF have maintenance issues. I believe fulcrums aint doing the best either though not sure. Really cool inventory though, i love those 70s aircraft such as the tomcat and mirage f1
 

drmeson

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Yeah but so many f14s of the IRIAF have maintenance issues.

Fleet is getting overhauled under F-14AM program, with new BVR and WVR missiles

I believe fulcrums aint doing the best either

Will be upgraded to SMT standard with MLU in Mehrabad, Tehran (Journalistic publications)

though not sure. Really cool inventory though, i love those 70s aircraft such as the tomcat and mirage f1

We dont operate Mirages in active duty as they lack aramements. Few airframes are at training school.
 

Hack-Hook

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Well, cant keep putting lipstick on a pig
depend on you see it as a pig or not, its radar have longer range tracking capabilities than su-35.
something maybe old but Gold, F-14 was F-22 of its time still more capable than many system like Su-30 that here being suggested for iran airforce. the design has a single job and still do that job adequately
 

CLUMSY

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depend on you see it as a pig or not, its radar have longer range tracking capabilities than su-35.
something maybe old but Gold, F-14 was F-22 of its time still more capable than many system like Su-30 that here being suggested for iran airforce. the design has a single job and still do that job adequately
Range isnt all that matters. What also matters is detection capability, jamming resistance, track radius and many other factors.
 

Hack-Hook

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Range isnt all that matters. What also matters is detection capability, jamming resistance, track radius and many other factors.
as i said its tracking capabilities is more than su-35 and detection capabilities high enough to be called mini-AWACS
how much jamming resistance it is depend on the upgrade they made to it , they only say we digitized analogue parts of the radar, my guess is its jamming resistance is better than other x-band dopler radars around as it have more mode and bandwidth than them and its power output is high

by the way its an unlikely scenario of dogfight happen this will tell you what will happen when f-14 is in hand of a pilot who knew it
main-qimg-306f466510600c98859f928cb268117b-lq

the plane can have a sustained turn rate about 18.5sec
 
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PakAlp

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Iran ballstic missile arsenal means airforce is not that urgent.

Airforce is very important. If Iran is attacked, their airforce will be the first one fighting, attacking invading planes, tanks, missile systems, radars, ships etc then Iran can make serious threats of using Ballistic missiles but without an airforce Iran is wide open for a foreign invasion. Yes missiles are great weapon to have. I like how Iran is investing in Drones, maybe 1000 unmanned armed drones with air to air, air to ground missiles can replace fighter jets.
 

Beast

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Airforce is very important. If Iran is attacked, their airforce will be the first one fighting, attacking invading planes, tanks, missile systems, radars, ships etc then Iran can make serious threats of using Ballistic missiles but without an airforce Iran is wide open for a foreign invasion. Yes missiles are great weapon to have. I like how Iran is investing in Drones, maybe 1000 unmanned armed drones with air to air, air to ground missiles can replace fighter jets.
Wrong! Air defense will take up the role of prevent enemy AF from striking Iran main land. Counter attack will be launch by cheaper precision strike ballistic missile and suicide drone. which dont require pilot to risk their lives into foe territories.

Iran has many times demonstrated such capabilities , giving US and Dash black eye without losing a single casualty. Precision strike rocket play such a big role in modern military that China specially give a new branch called second artillery which is independent forces consist of ballistic missile.

Ballistic missile are fast, long range and difficult to intercept. Not to mention, they can even take out deep concrete bunker with their fast velocity and warhead. They can hit even moving target like big ships. One high end conventional ballistic missile probably cost USD 1 million but if they can take out one US destroyer even at expense of firing a dozen at it. It still a worthy trade off deal.
 

CLUMSY

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as i said its tracking capabilities is more than su-35 and detection capabilities high enough to be called mini-AWACS
how much jamming resistance it is depend on the upgrade they made to it , they only say we digitized analogue parts of the radar, my guess is its jamming resistance is better than other x-band dopler radars around as it have more mode and bandwidth than them and its power output is high

by the way its an unlikely scenario of dogfight happen this will tell you what will happen when f-14 is in hand of a pilot who knew it
main-qimg-306f466510600c98859f928cb268117b-lq

the plane can have a sustained turn rate about 18.5sec
Dogfights dont matter in the modern age. And id argue that both the f15 and f16 are going to be performing much better than iranian f14s in it either way because of better control surfaces, maintenance and training. Missiles and overall situational awareness too
 

Hack-Hook

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Dogfights dont matter in the modern age. And id argue that both the f15 and f16 are going to be performing much better than iranian f14s in it either way because of better control surfaces, maintenance and training. Missiles and overall situational awareness too
as i said its better aircraft than Su-30 . have longer tracking capabilities than su-35, can engage 5 aircraft at the same time. and its radar have always been hard to jam because of its plethora of available modes , channels and its large bandwidth , but how hard it depend on Iran upgrade.

and no f-15 can't beat it in sustained turn and dogfight specially at lower speed because of its variable geometric wing , but its useless as it won't happen and all the fight will be BVR i put that photo there because here it was mantioned and other things and i taught by that they mean maneuverability , if by that you guys mean another thing , you must be more percise

Wrong! Air defense will take up the role of prevent enemy AF from striking Iran main land.
it can't do that alone
 

Beast

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it can't do that alone
Nobody tells u to do it alone. While air defense are bleeding enemies airstrike. Precision strike ballstic missile and suicide drone are launch to take out enemies airbase a thousand km away. Harass or bleed their air defense missile. Ballistic missile and drone also will attack arty, army , tank position.

Iran are confident ballistic missile and suicide drone and air defense are the main forces while airforce are secondary.

If Gulf War are decide by AF. The next modern conventional warfare between a major countries will be decide by hypersonic missile, precision strike ballistic missile and high tech drone.

They suffer no casualty, paid a small price while inflict heavy damage on enemies. The ideal warfare for 21th century with high network and surveillance.
 

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