Middle East Defense Editor Maya Carlin details how Iran nearly a decade ago declared it was trying to build a stealth fighter it named the Qaher-313. It never made it into production for many clearly reasons: The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Air Force is comprised of very outdated airframes, including its arsenal of 40-year-old F-14 Tomcats, F-5 Tigers and F-4 Phantoms. The U.S. sold the Shah these formerly top-tier and superior fighters prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, back when Iran was still an ally. These jets, largely retired by the U.S. and its other importers, remain a mainstay of the Iranian Air Force. While Iran’s ability to maintain and even improve these aging airframes is remarkable, its lack of a stealth fighter has troubled the regime.
In an attempt to compensate for its underdeveloped, aging fleet and appear more formidable, Iran unveiled its own version of a stealth fighter several years ago. The Qaher “Conquerer” 313’s two public appearances in the last decade confirmed the stealth fighter was nothing more than a mirage crafted for propaganda purposes.
Long Time Coming
A mock-up of the Qaher-313 was first revealed in February 2013 by Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and was reportedly designed by Iran’s Defense Ministry’s Aviation Industries Organization. According to the regime’s former Defense Minister, the stealth fighter has a tiny radar cross-section, is capable of flying at low altitudes, and can be armed with domestic-made weapons. The prototype was immediately dismissed by aviation experts across the globe. In the U.S., analysts pointed to Iran’s lack of analytical and sensor technologies to emphasize why its development of the jet would be impossible. The prototype’s minuscule frame was actually too tiny to fit any weapons or even a pilot. In fact, it would be impossible to fit an engine small enough to fight in the fighter and power the size of the aircraft.
According to The Aviationist website editor David Cenciotti, the Conqueror’s engine’s exhaust duct is missing a nozzle. Therefore, any use of an afterburner would likely set the entire airframe ablaze in no time. Also, the technical specifications that were announced in the jet’s rollout indicated the fighter could carry two 2,000-pound bombs and at least six air-to-air missiles. However, the Qaher-313 appeared to be missing an internal weapons bay, making this assertion outrageous.
Built to Scale?
A scale model of the Conqueror built shortly after its debut provided additional insight into the jet’s makeup. The model’s pattern-maker Alfred Wong discovered “that they (Iran) actually cut up an old MiG-17’s wings for it—the wings have a very distinctive plane shape. So, for the pattern I bought a 1:72[-scale] MiG-17 and cut up the wings in the same manner—and it was indeed a perfect match! There would be no way that a clearly ‘50s-vintage wing shape would work on a modern design.”
Despite the many questionable components of the Qaher-313’s design, Iran’s leadership has maintained the reality of its beloved “fifth-generation stealth fighter.” The regime has even claimed the airframe is “superior” to the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. However, the fighter never materialized.
A similar story played out when Iran unveiled its “indigenous” Kowsar fighter jet a few years later in 2018. U.S. aviation experts immediately dismissed the Kowsar as a weak replica of a very old American jet designed in the ’70s. Iran’s fake displays of aircraft development lend to its domestic propaganda efforts. The world will likely witness the country’s third showcase of a “stealth fighter” in the future.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.