HESA Kowsar

     Notes: The Kowsar (Thunderbolt) is basically an upgraded F-5B Freedom Fighter; despite Iran’s claims that the Kowsar is “100 percent domestically manufactured,” the airframe is a strengthened to give it a sort of Mid-Life Upgrade and keep them relevant and fight-quality instead of being a thoroughly-obsolete aircraft unable to hold its own with fighters and air-to-ground targets.  The production line (perhaps it should called an upgrade line) opened in 2018, and 25 Kowsars have been manufactured as of the end of 2019.  The Iranians plan to convert the remaining 48 F-5Bs into Kowsars in the following years. Western experts say it is still deficient as a fighter-bomber, and should perhaps be used as a trainer instead of a frontline fighter-bomber.  They say that the Kowsar is already obsolete, despite the upgrade package. The upgrade makes use of stolen technology from the US and other NATO countries, as well as bought technology from China.  The Iranians claim that the Kowsar is a Generation 4 fighter, but if it is, it is just barely so. The Kowser upgrade package is being marketed to countries which have F-5-series aircraft.

     The Kowsar is a two-pace aircraft, with a pilot and WSO. The WSO does not have much of a function in air-to-air combat; his primary job is in air-to-ground operations.  The Kowsar’s airframe follows its F-5 roots.  The Kowsar has an enlarged canopy for better visibility.

     Engines have been upgraded with J90 turbofans, which are unlicensed copies of the GE J85-GE-13 (but still considered by experts as deficient),and deliver a total of 10,000 pounds thrust.  The fuel the Kowsar is able to carry limits to short-duration attack missions and short dogfights. Maneuvering slats have been added to the wings’ leading edges, and control surfaces have been enlarged.  The wings themselves have more swept leading edges, and the air intakes slope slightly back toward the rear, though the reason for this in unknown.

     Avionics were designed with Russian help; the cockpit display and combat avionics are partially based on the MiG-29.  The whole avionics suite was not compatible with the Kowsar, and thus provided only limited improvements.  Most of these improvements are in the cockpit, and the Kowsar essentially has a glass cockpit, with most instruments being LCD panels.  The radar has increased range and is capable of using command-guidance munitions and radar-homing AAMs.  The Kowsar uses fly-by-wire technology, which increases maneuverability and keeps the plane from performing maneuvers which would “outmaneuver the aircrew.”  The WSO does not have flight controls; his cockpit is primarily concerned with radar and ground targets, though he does fire any radar-homing AAMs the Kowser may carry.  The avionics suite, unlike the rest of the Kowser, has near-state-of-the-art avionics..



Fuel Type


Veh Wt



Night Vision



JP4 equivalent

3.8 tons

6.18 tons



Radar (200 km), IRST (50 km)



Tr Mov

Com Mov

Mnvr/Acc Agl/Turn

Fuel Cap

Fuel Cons




869 (125)

NA  196 5/3  50/30




FF4  CF4  RF3  W2  T2


Combat Equipment

Minimum Landing/Takeoff Zone




All-Weather Flight, Flare/Chaff Dispensers (40/40, RWR, ECM, HUD, IR Uncage, Track While Scan, Target ID, Laser Designator

700/500m Hardened Runway


2xM39 20mm Autocannons, 6 Hardpoints