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HESA Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) - Iran, 2014

Detailing the development and operational history of the HESA Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) Lightweight Multirole Fighter Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 8/7/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  HESA Saeqeh (Thunderbolt)  
Picture of HESA Saeqeh (Thunderbolt)

The HESA Saeqeh appeared on global media radars in July of 2004 and is nothing more than a Iranian take on the American F-5 Tiger.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has benefited greatly from their associations with both the United States (pre-1979 revolution) and the Soviet Union/Russia to the point that their indigenous arms industry has finally begun to show the fruits consistent with decades of operation and re-engineering of various weapon systems comprised of assault rifles, main battle tanks and aircraft. Iran fielded the simple, export-minded American-made Northrop F-5 Tigers in its war with Iraq during the 1980s as well as the Grumman F-14 Tomcats and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs. Along with these aircraft came the base technology within - modern avionics, afterburning turbojet engines and guided missile technology. At least 140 American F-5 Tigers were delivered to the Iranian Air Force with some 60 or so still believed to be operational today.

The Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) is a joint development effort concerning Iranian Ministry of Defense and the Iranian Air Force to produce a budget-minded local multirole aircraft platform displaying modern systems, qualities and capabilities of her contemporaries worldwide. The initial Saeqeh prototype was first flown on May 30th, 2004 and showcased to the Iranian public on state-run television in July of that year and is known to have participated in the August 2006 wargame. At least three prototypes were also featured in a follow-up September 2007 military parade. The aircraft was formally introduced into service with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) on September 22nd, 2007.

Outwardly, the Saeqeh is of a conventional design and layout, appearing as something of a slight cross-breed consisting of the American-made Northrop F-5 Tiger and the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. It is more in the class of the former, however, due to Iranian experience in the operation of the F-5 from decades prior. The cockpit is situated in the forward fuselage which consists of a long nose cone housing a radar system. The cockpit is covered over in a large canopy and only the rear view is covered by the fuselage spine - the rest of the views out of the cockpit are unobstructed. Wins are low-set monoplane assemblies fitted to amidships. The fuselage is straddled by a pair of intake ducts that run three-quarters of the fuselage length and aspirate the two engines. Each intake features a smallish rectangular opening at the front and exhausts through a pair of circular rings at the rear. Instead of the F-5 Tiger's single vertical tail fin, the Saeqeh fields a pair of outward canted vertical fins similar in scope to the F/A-18 Hornet. The undercarriage is of a conventional tricycle design made up of two main legs and a nose leg. The main legs retract inwards towards centerline while the nose leg retracted forward, under and ahead of the cockpit floor. The twin engine arrangement and twin vertical tail fins are the key differentiating features of the Saeqeh when compared to the F-5.

Due to the lack of available published information, some technical aspects of the Saeqeh are either assumed or estimated - some even based on the capabilities of the F-5 itself. The aircraft will most likely feature a modernized digital cockpit with avionics and armament systems that allow it to compete on the modern battlefield. Her armament stable will most likely be largely Russian in origin and include access to the latest in guided-missile and bomb technology. Her defensive suite is said to be entirely locally-produced within the Iranian military complex, negating the need to procure expensive or limited-function systems from foreign parties. The Saeqeh is not a 5th Generation design by any scope and does not incorporate any known stealth technologies as may be found in the American F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II series of jets or the upcoming Russian Sukhoi T-50. In fact, the Saeqeh may be nothing more than a modernized, highly-modified indigenous version of the American F-5E Tiger II and thusly showcase similar agility and only limited multi-role qualities. While Iranian authorities compare the Saeqeh favorably to the United States Navy's F/A-18 Hornet mount, its true capabilities remain to be seen. To date, at least five Saeqeh aircraft have been known produced by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company with a further 24 to be expected. The first squadron to field the Saeqeh has already been created.

The Saeqeh fighter has also been seen in nomenclature as the "Saeqeh-80". Three distinct versions were shown on Iranian television on September 23rd, 2007, each being "inspected" by President Ahmadinejad, and are known respectively as the "Saeqeh", "Azarakhsh" and "Tazarv".

In August of 2013, it was announced that the Saeqeh would see official introduction in 2013. It has since been granted operational status in the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force with 24 planned. The Saeqeh-2 - an upgraded two-seat form - joined the line in 2015 and features more modern systems as well as a training capability. First operator is to become the 23rd Tactical Fighter Squadron of Tabriz/Shaheed Fakouri TFB-2.

HESA Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) Specifications

Service Year: 2014
Type: Lightweight Multirole Fighter Aircraft
National Origin: Iran
Manufacturer(s): Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (IAIO) / Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA) - Iran
Total Production: 24

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 1
Overall Length: 52.13 feet (15.89 meters)
Overall Width: 26.67 feet (8.13 meters)
Overall Height: 13.12 feet (4.00 meters)

Weight (Empty): 9,700 lb (4,400 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 19,842 lb (9,000 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 2 x Afterburning turbojet engines (most likely related to the General Electric J85-GE-21 turbojet line).

Maximum Speed: 918 knots (1,056 mph; 1,700 kph)
Maximum Range: 1,620 nautical miles (1,864 miles; 3,000 km)
Service Ceiling: 52,493 feet (16,000 meters; 9.94 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 34,400 feet-per-minute (10,485 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

2 x 20mm M39A2 Gatling-style internal cannons

Seven external hardpoints (including wingtips and fuselage centerline) for air-to-air, air-to-surface guided or drop munitions including missiles, bombs, rocket pods, and fuel droptanks.

Global Operators (Customers, Users)


Model Variants

Saeqeh - Base Fighter Designation
Sa'eqeh - Alternative Name
Saegheh - Alternative Name
Saeqeh-80 - Alternative Designation
Saeqeh-2 - Updated variant with two-seat configuration; modernized avionics and equipment set.

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