Iran received the first of its Northrop F-5 "Freedom Fighter" aircraft from the United States beginning in February of 1965 and these joined the Iranian Air Force at an operational level in June of that year. The original A- and B-model stocks were then sold off to make room in inventory for the F-5E and F-5F models ("Tiger II") that followed. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 eliminated any further deliveries of American-originated military equipment and forced a reliance other export nations friendly to the new regime or a decided evolution of current Iranian aero-industry prowess.
With the valuable experience in operating the F-5 line, the country eventually took to reengineering the F-5 line for its own purposes, producing all-new modern variants to fit ongoing over-battlefield requirements. One development was the HESA "Saeqeh" ("Thunderbolt") which appeared in 2007 for the fighter role (and is detailed elsewhere on this site). Twin, outward-canted vertical tail fins clearly differentiated this model from the original American design. Before this version was debuted, Iranian industry put together the foundation for what became the HESA "Azarakhsh" ("Lightning"), a strike fighter-minded off-shoot of the same F-5 Freedom Fighter / Tiger line.
The Azarakhsh, developed directly from the F-5E Tiger II model, was introduced for formal frontline service in 1997. It retains the same form and function of the original including its twin engine, twin intake arrangement, long and slender nosecone assembly, and low-mounted wing appendages. The aircraft is crewed by a sole operator and houses radar in its nose while being outfitted with missiles and holding an inherent capability to carry air-to-ground munitions in the form of conventional drop bombs, rocket pods and the like. The wingtip stations are reserved for short-ranged Air-to-Air Missiles (AAMs) that clearly resemble the American AIM-9 "Sidewinder". Unlike the Saeqeh, the Azarakhsh sees only a single tailfin fitted (as in the original F-5). Fixed standard armament is 2 x 20mm cannons with approximately 250 to 280 rounds afforded per gun.
While performance specs remain largely under wraps, it is assumed that the Iranian aircraft displays some of the same numbers encountered with the original design. It is also assumed that the series still makes use of General Electric turbojet engines rated at about 5,000 lb thrust each with afterburner (3,500 lb thrust dry) which leads to a maximum speed of 1,050 miles per hour (Mach 1.6), a ferry range out to 2,300 miles, and a service ceiling up to 51,500 feet. Rate-of-climb may very well exceed 34,000 feet-per-minute.
American-made F-5E models were completed with Emerson Electric AN/APQ-153 and -159 series radars as well as AN/AVQ-27 Laser Target Designator Sets (LTDSs). Sources indicate the Azarakhsh to be of 2nd or 3rd Generation Fighter quality/capability (work on a possible 4th Generation Fighter form is unknown) and could carry these fits even today or an alternative, locally-derived radar fit instead.
Production of the system has reportedly been slow and a published three-year window called for some thirty or so aircraft to be delivered though this has not been verified. As such, its presence - and value - within the Iranian Air Force inventory is questionable.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
47.4 ft (14.45 m)
26.7 ft (8.15 m)
13.5 ft (4.10 m)
9,590 lb (4,350 kg)
24,725 lb (11,215 kg)
+15,135 lb (+6,865 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base HESA Azarakhsh (Lightning) production variant)
2 x General Electric J85-GE-21B turbojet engines developing 5,000 lb thrust each with afterburner (3,500lb thrust dry).
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