Key point: Everyone wants a stealth fighter, but pretending to have one just makes you look weak.
Tensions have escalated in the Persian Gulf region in the aftermath of U.S. president Donald Trump’s decision unilaterally to withdraw the United States from the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program.
The U.S. military has implicated Iranian agents in several summer 2019 attacks on civilian ships sailing near Iran. The U.S. Navy sent the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and her strike group to the region. The U.S. Air Force deployed B-52 bombers and F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters.
If war breaks out, American forces likely will attempt to secure Gulf air space by destroying or suppressing Iran’s air forces. The regular Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force and the air wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps militia together operate around 700 aircraft, including around two dozen U.S.-made F-14s.
One thing U.S. forces won’t have to worry about is an Iranian stealth fighter. The Islamic republic’s supposedly radar-evading Qaher 313 fighter was nothing but a cheap mock-up when it first rolled out in early 2013. It was still a cheap mock-up when it appeared again in public in 2017.
Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ahmad Vahidi, then the country’s defense minister, unveiled the Qaher 313 at a staged event in February 2013. Officials claimed the plane could carry two 2,000-pound bombs or at least six air-to-air missiles.
But the sleek, single-engine, single-seat aircraft with the non-stealthy front canards and anhedral wingtips seemed … off. Video footage of an alleged “test flight” likewise was unconvincing and clearly involved a small-scale drone. Photographs depicting the Qaher 313 in flight over snow-capped mountains obviously were forgeries.
Journalist Steve Weintz scrutinized the purported Iranian stealth fighter in the most old-fashioned way possible. He built a scale model of the plane using a kit from boutique model-maker Fantastic Plastic. In so doing, he discovered that there literally isn’t enough space under the Qaher 313’s wings for the bombs and missiles Iranian officials claimed the plane could carry.
He asked David Cenciotti, editor of The Aviationist website, to assess the model.