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Iran Made A Big Deal About A Copycat Missile

July 29, 2018

Via Wikimedia Commons.

As the war of words between Tehran and Washington, DC heats up state-owned Iranian press agencies revealed a new “long-range air-to-air missile” called the Fakour. This latest product from Iran’s military industry was described as having a “superior guidance system” and “enhanced speed.” The Fakour doesn’t resemble any air-launched munition from either China or Russia and appears to be an unexpected breakthrough.

But reviewing the Iranian air force’s (IRIAF) inventory offers hints on its origins. Upon closer inspection, the Fakour is a clone of the US-made AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missile that was meant for the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The IRIAF is the sole remaining operator of the venerable US naval fighter.

Descriptions of the Fakour among Iranian media are contradictory, with alternating claims it’s a “medium-range” and “long-range” munition. The designation “Fakour 90” is also used and its beginnings were traced back to 2013 although initial testing took place in 2017. The five year gap suggests the amount of effort that went into cloning a foreign air-to-air missile. The improvements on the Fakour include a guidance system whose dimensions were altered and a maximum range of 220 kilometers. Overall, Iranian media insist the Fakour’s performance characteristics are 15% better than the AIM-54.

Take note of the stationary Crotale short-range SAM at the back. Via Fars News Agency.

The original AIM-54 Phoenix was first conceptualized in 1960 and its development stretched for the rest of the decade. By 1971, however, a batch of 274 AIM-54 Phoenix missiles were sold to Iran for the 79 F-14A Tomcats the Shah’s government had ordered. Whether or not the stockpile was used up during the bitter Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) is uncertain. The US Navy was the largest operator of F-14’s in all variants and its remaining AIM-54/A/B/C Phoenix missiles were decommissioned by 2004.

On July 23, a Monday, Iran’s defense minister unveiled a production line for the Fakour missiles described by the local press as “state-of-the-art.” This belied a longstanding practice by the country’s military industries of copying whatever foreign equipment or ordnance it acquires. Almost none of Iran’s “indigenous” weapons are locally designed and some are outright fakes; a comical attempt at a fifth-generation “stealth fighter” and other absurdities do come to mind.

The Fakour shouldn’t be dismissed as a mere imitation. If its given range is accurate then Iran has indeed joined the ranks of the select few countries that manufacture long-range air-to-air missiles–a sure boon for its aerospace sector. Whether or not enough Fakour’s can be built in time to equip the IRIAF’s surviving F-14A’s or any alternate airframes, the Fakour threatens most fixed wing combat aircraft deployed across the Persian Gulf.

Another mystery air-to-air missile called the “Maqsoud” is in the works but there’s no point anticipating when it’s unveiled. The propaganda coming from Tehran’s own press agencies mixes details with omissions on a regular basis, hence it’s difficult to ascertain how authentic some claims are no matter how credible they appear.

The IRIAF’s colorful fleet has four types of multirole fighter jets aside form the F-14A. These are the MiG-29, the F-5A, the F-4 Phantom II, and the J-7; the last is a Chinese copy of the MiG-21. Decades of sanctions have prevented Tehran from acquiring newer third and fourth-generation airframes and a rumored fighter-trainer may never materialize. Whatever the flying branch’s shortcomings, at least they now have a cool new missile good enough against the multitudes of Gulf Arab Eagles, Falcons, Hornets, and Typhoons.

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