David Donald — AIN Online Feb 6, 2014
Brigadier General Alireza Barkhor, the deputy commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, has stated that a two-seat derivative of the country’s homemade Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) fighter will be unveiled in a matter of months. He is hopeful that the aircraft could be ready in time to take part in the April 18 flypast over Tehran as part of National Army Day.
Iran has hinted at the development of a more advanced version of the Saeqeh for some time. Apart from its second cockpit, the new version is more powerful and more maneuverable and has greater range, said Barkhor. It is also expected to have new avionics and expanded weapon options, including precision-guided munitions.
The two-seat Saeqeh is the latest in a line of projects to emanate from Iran’s HESA (Iran aircraft manufacturing industrial company). Initially established at Isfahan by Textron to build Bell 214s, the factory has amassed experience in building types under license (An-140) and the reverse-engineering and adaptation of helicopters and fighters to meet Iranian requirements.
As part of this work HESA produced the Simorgh, a conversion of the Northrop F-5A to two-seat F-5B standard, and has also built spares for Iran’s F-5 fleet. This experience led to the Azarakhsh (Lightning). The name has been associated over the years with a number of different aircraft designs, but the current incarnation is, in essence, a copy of the Northrop F-5E/F with various minor modifications. It has been reported that some Russian components were incorporated. It is unclear how many Azarakhsh have been produced, if any. Some sources suggest that the aircraft labeled “Azarakhsh” might in fact be re-badged F-5s.
As part of the evolution of the Azarakhsh, HESA produced a prototype of an F-5-based aircraft with twin vertical tails and a square inlet design, known as Saeqeh. This first flew on May 30, 2004. Two more prototypes, with minor differences such as a return to the standard rounded intakes, were ready in time to join the first in the type’s first public outing during a flypast on Sept. 22, 2007. By September 2010 Iranian officials were claiming that the aircraft was in operational service with the IRIAF, and five “front-line” aircraft were shown off during that month’s Week of Holy Defense. It is not known how many had been built by then, and the mix of intake types on show suggests that the quintet included prototypes. IRIAF officials claimed at the time that at least 24 were being produced to fully equip a single squadron.