Although cobbled together from parts bought on the black market, cajoled or pirated rather than homemade, Iran’s new general fighter jet, Saeqa – Lightning – is drawing close attention from the United States and Israel ever since intelligence on its existence filtered through about ten days ago. Iran is due to unveil its proud new warplane in late May or early June after long months of top-secret production.
The Iranians appear to believe that the Saeqa is a super-fighter whose technology can match, if not surpass, anything made in the West.
The Iran fighter’s range, armament and performance are still a mystery. But clearly, Israel’s Air Force, which has just taken possession of new long-range F-16I fighter-bombers made in America, and the US military, burdened with a tough war in Iraq and a global war against terror, are extremely concerned about any challenge to their dominance of Middle East skies.
Sneaking under Western intelligence radar, the Iranians managed to build a complete production line for the aircraft in secret. No hint was betrayed even at the military’s annual parade in Tehran on Saturday, April 17. The only clue picked up with interest by Western intelligence agencies was a visit by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, in early March to the country’s main aircraft industries facility at Karaj about 40 km north of Tehran. On that occasion, the supreme leader is thought to have praised the “blessed work” being done there and apparently used the occasion to ceremonially launch the Saeqa’s production line.
Iran’s extremist rulers will be letting out all the stops to exhibit their air arsenal’s new acquisition as an Islamic achievement. But the United States and Israel strongly suspect, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, that they paid Beijing through the nose for the blueprints of the advanced J-10 warplane in the use of the Chinese air force, the PLAAF.
The Chinese aircraft, in fact, was based on Israel’s Lavie fighter plane project, which the United States forced it to scrap in the 1980s, plus American technology that China’s MSS espionage agency stole from the US Air Force and Pentagon. Back in the 1990s, Iran leaned hard on China for a close look at the Phalcon AWACS aircraft Beijing had contracted to buy from Israel, another sale Washington barred.
Efficient compartmentalization kept the Saeqa project secret. Its production was divided among four facilities: Karaj, Esfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz.
Worried speculation about an Iranian-Chinese connection has been bolstered by Tehran’s claim that its new aircraft is a match for the US-built F-16. Even if Tehran is overstating the case, any suggestion of the Shiite fundamentalist regime owning a warplane capable of carrying nuclear weapons sends shudders down informed spines in the United States, Israel, the Gulf emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as India, the rest of South Asia and, of course, any new Iraqi government.
Just as Iran tapped into the nuclear black and gray markets to build uranium enrichment facilities out of a hodgepodge of components, it is more than likely that it has patched the Saeqa together in the same way. This method of assembly would not produce a product as technologically superior as feared by its potential targets, rather an aircraft in the same class as those built in China, Ukraine and Russia, that is at least two generations behind US warplanes.
What the Islamic Republic is after, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources, is the biggest military force in the Middle East and (why not?) the whole world. A multi-billion dollar fortune has been lavished on the acquisition of Iranian self-sufficiency in all types of weapons and ammunition so as to subsist in a drawn-out war on multiple fronts. It is now producing all the munitions it needs along with armored personnel carriers, artillery, a new type of tank based on technology from the former Soviet bloc and other countries, drones, small training aircraft and communications equipment.
Its main objective is a nuclear bomb to cap its war arsenal.
For more than a decade Iran has diverted vast amounts of national income to projects for filling in the gaps in warplanes and attack helicopters, mainly through hole-and-corner purchases on the black market or from countries willing for prices running into hundreds of millions of dollars to turn a blind eye to the end use of their merchandize.
In one known instance, Iran purchased from the Ukraine equipment and technology for the construction of a passenger plane. With the help of that dual purpose project and practice in the production of light military aircraft, Iran made important strides toward building the Saeqa.
By now, having recruited hundreds of aircraft engineers from all over the world, Iran boasts the largest aircraft industry in the Middle East, competent enough to carry out repairs on and upgrade aircraft.
On Monday, April 19, Khamenei, who is personally involved in all his country’s military projects, is reported by our Iranian sources as bragging during a visit to Teheran’s Emam Ali military university, that the “Estekbar (a Farsi word for “arrogant”) United States and the West – were very concerned about Iran’s powerful armed forces and the nuclear technology it has acquired.