Iran has been striving to sustain serviceability and improve reliability of various US built aircraft in its arsenal for quite some time. Most of the US military equipment was acquired by Iran in the 70’s during the rule of the Shah. Forty years down, Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF), faced with decades of military sanctions, has embraced the challenge of indigenously upgrading and overhauling its aging American equipment.
One such example is the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft acquired by IRIAF through US foreign military sales/assistance program in the 1970s. The Iranian C-130 fleet comprises of “B” and “E” models of the C-130, most of which are considered to be vintage platforms. They have been progressively phased-out by the United States Air Force to be replaced by the new C-130 “J” model , known as the Super Hercules. Most of Iran’s C-130 fleet contains aircraft over four decades old and acutely face an aging and obsolescence issue which threatens the serviceability of the Iranian Air Force tactical transport fleet. The IRIAF for years has been relying on cannibalization of parts by grounding numerous aircraft to serve as logistical points for critically needed spares and components to keep the remaining few birds flying. Adverse effects of excessive cannibalization did show up eventually in the form of safety of the aircraft and crew members being increasingly jeopardized. In 2005, an IRIAF C-130 crashed into an apartment building in Tehran killing 10 crew members and 84 passengers onboard. Experts attribute sanctions, non-availability of parts from the manufacturer Lockheed, and poor maintenance standards as a probable cause of the IRIAF C-130 aircraft crash.
To overcome sustainment issues under strict military sanctions, Iran has initiated overhaul of its aging C-130 fleet at the Iranian air base located at Shiraz. An estimated 23,000 man-hours were reported to have been spent in the overhaul of a single C-130 aircraft. On similar lines, the IRIAF has also overhauled two F-1 Mirage fighter jets utilizing experts at Shahid Nasser Habibi air base in Northeastern Iran. Additionally, overhauling of Mig-29 and F-5 fighter jets is underway at Shaheed Fakouri air base in Iran’s Northwestern city of Tabriz. The former Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi disclosed early this year that Iran intends to bring to the world forum its indigenously produced defense products which shall include the unveiling of a new trainer jet aircraft,manufactured by Iran, to join the fleet.
Iran’s new found indigenous overhauling and aircraft fleet production claims have met a lot of skepticism from western experts. Last year, Iran unveiled its indigenously produced fighter aircraft, the F-313 titled “Qaher” or the “Dominator.” The aircraft was designed and manufactured by the Aviation Industries Organization (AIO), a division of the Ministry of Defense, and IRIAF. Strictly speaking from the exterior features visible of the unveiled design, experts termed the aircraft of being anything but close to performance claims boasted by Iran regarding its latest innovation. The F-313 fighter is supposedly built using advanced materials rendering the aircraft with stealth capability. Furthermore the aircraft is claimed to be capable of carrying a versatile armament payload of maximum 2000 pounds. According to aviation experts, the aircraft design was lagging the most basic aerodynamic and propulsion features deemed essential for a high performance modern fighter jet aircraft.
By Omar Khan