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Tuesday, June 29, 1999 Published at 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK

World: Middle East

Iran 'makes own warplane'

Iran's military machine appears to be getting more sophisticated

Iran is reported to have begun producing a locally developed fighter aircraft called the Azarakhsh or Lightning.

British defence journal Jane's Defence Weekly reports that production of the new plane was disclosed to Tehran newspapers by air force General Habibollah Bagai.

The journal says the aircraft is a light fighter and ground attack plane with avionics and radar of Iranian design, and "certain critical components" of Russian origin. Jane's Defence Weekly says its sources describe the Azarakhsh as "a highly capable aircraft despite its conventional design".

[ image: Iran supplemented its air force with Soviet-built MiGs]
Iran supplemented its air force with Soviet-built MiGs
Until now, Iran's air force has been based on US planes supplied before the Islamic revolution in 1979.

These include Northrop F-5s, Grumman F-14As and McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantoms. The new Iranian designed plane is believed to resemble the F-5 with a payload of about 4,000kg.

Iran also received some MiG-29s from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and has held on to other Soviet and Chinese-built planes that flew from Iraq to escape the bombing campaign in the 1990-91 Gulf War.

Jane's Defence Weekly reports that Iranian Aviation Industries is working on various ways of upgrading the capabilities of these older aircraft. The company is also reported to be starting production of a locally designed jet trainer.

Gulf fears

Iran's military capabilities are closely monitored by her neighbours in the Gulf.

There was considerable concern about the delivery of Russian submarines earlier in the decade. More recently the United States and Israel have expressed concern about the development of Iran's missile capability.

In May Iran announced that it was carrying out military exercises aimed at testing new equipment made or repaired in the country. The weapons included helicopters, tanks and planes.

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