The Kowsar unveiled by the Iranian ministry of defense on Monday appears to be one of many possible projects, from the outside the aircraft is identical to the F-5F built and delivered in the 1970s to the Shah of Iran’s Air Force by the at the time Northrop corporation. The aircraft could be a domestically produced F-5F, it can be an F-5F upgraded with new electronic systems and avionics or it can be a test bed for the Kowsar 88 training aircraft unveiled in 2017. This announcement comes a month after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Force overhauled several Su-22M4 Strike Fighters that were put into service after flying over form Iraq in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War. Iran’s two Air Forces have regularly competed for influence over the countries defense budget. The Kowsar might be Artesh’s (IRIAF) attempt to develop a low cost ground attack aircraft to give the Iran’s Air Force more of a capability and role in the ongoing war in Syria.
The first possible scenario is the Kowsar is a domestically manufactured F-5, of Iran’s fleet of fighter aircraft the F-5 is the most plausible aircraft to remanufacture as parts for the F-14 Tomcat and F-4 Phantom are not readily available. Iran in 2012 released video of the what appeared to be a domestically manufactured jet engine that resembled the General Electric J-85 used on the F-5E/F. This engine was designated Owj. Iran also has the infrastructure to manufacture the fuselage of the F-5. The Kowsar appeared to have digital flight displays that replaced the analog displays seen on older F-5s. Kowsar’s radar can possibly be the FIAR Grifo 7 Mk II used on the F-7 Airguard. This would be the only radar that can fit in an F-5s nose cone. If this is in fact the case the Kowsar would only be useful for air to ground operations. This includes air support for ground troops and ground attack missions.
The Kowsar can also be one of many upgrades to Iran’s F-5 fleet. Past upgraded include the Simorg training aircraft and Seaqeh attack aircraft which featured twin vertical stabilizers. This design change would only improve the aircrafts maneuverability and angle of attack. F-5Es have been retained as ground attack aircraft for the countries Artesh Air Force. The possibility of the Kowsar being a test bed for electronics for the IRIAFs advanced trainer program can also be a possibility. The Kowsar 88 trainer is seen as an effort for Iran’s regular Air Force to create a platform to train pilots. At the moment Iran’s regular Air Force uses PC-9s to train pilots, these aircraft are turboprops and do not resemble the capabilities of a jet fighter.
The IRIAF has been attempting to improve and grow its fleet for the past 25 years. During the 1990s the force purchased several aircraft from Russia this included the 20 Mig-29 Fulcrum’s , 12 Su-24 Fencer’s and 17 F-7 Air Guard’s from China. These deliveries were further supplemented by Iraqi aircraft flown over to Ahaz during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. These aircraft were observed throughout the 1990s and 2000s throughout the Persian Gulf. By the 2010s Iran’s military budget shifted to the IRGC which favors tactical land warfare equipment, ballistic missiles and unmanned combat aerial vehicles. Iran’s Regular Air Force shifted its focus on maintaining its fleet of F-4, F-5 and F-14s. Deals with Russia to purchase Su-30s would fall through in 2016 for unknown reasons.
Iran’s Air Force has largely been sidelined during the 7 year war in Syria and Iraq, two operations took place in 2014 in support of Kurdish forces near Iran’s border town of Kermanshah. News outlets reported Iranian F-4s conducted airstrikes on ISIS positions. Another operation took place in 2016 where Iranian F-14s escorted Russian bombers through Iranian airspace. It is unclear if the Kowsar is a shift to improving Iran’s Regular Air Force’s capabilities or a just an upgrade program.