For that matter, the notion that even the mockup Qaher has a stealthy radar cross section is dubious as Iran likely lacks the prerequisite radar-absorbent material and precision-engineering technology .
Notably, the Fars news agency described the new Qaher as a “logistic aircraft” (whatever that means—it’s clearly not a cargo plane) and a “light fighter jet for military and training purposes.” This hints that if Iran ever does build flying Qaher, it might not be intended for frontline service. Perhaps it could serve as a prototype, or a means to test detection of a quasi-low-observable airframe.
Iranian sources, including a deputy defense minister, have also offered the eyebrow-raising claim that the Qaher is intended to shoot down helicopters, based on a chain of dubious premises. Supposedly, the threat posed by swarms of Iranian motorboats armed with anti-ship missiles is so great that the U.S. Navy will rely on attack helicopters to destroy them. These, however, could in turn be easily shot down by fighters—so long as those fighters are stealthy enough to evade the surface-to-air missiles of ships, so the reasoning goes.
Iran may eventually design an actual flying jet plane resembling the mockups it passed off as the real thing—but even, such a plane would likely merely be a testbed and showpiece. By now, one can consult the experience of the United States, China and Russia to show what a real stealth fighter program would entail. By comparison, Iran’s effort does no seem credible. One should also bear in mind that back in 2003, Iran unveiled an earlier, more convincing fake subsonic stealth fighter called the Shafaq—revealed in 2014 to be a mock-up made of wood.
Certainly, Iran has reasons to want a stealth fighter—it fears an attack by Israel or the United States, some of the most capable air arms on the planet. Furthermore, Iran is competing for regional dominance with multiple Arab states lavishly equipped with fourth and 4.5-generation F-15, F-16, Typhoon and Rafale jet fighters.
However, attempting to develop a working stealth jet from scratch is probably the most expensive and least practical solution to address those challenges. Meanwhile, Tehran’s predilection for fabricating easily disproven evidence of its military capabilities testifies to the revolutionary state’s enduring sense of insecurity.
Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.