Iran’s annual parade and commemoration of its 1980s war with Iraq featured the Islamic Republic’s most modern weaponry, an arsenal experts say is a collection of knockoffs, junk and gear suited for display only.
“Sacred Defense Week,” which marks the beginning in 1980 of Iran’s long and bloody war with Iraq and began at the end of last month, features a nationwide parade, war remembrance gatherings and what the authoritative military blog War Is Boring called “theatrical unveiling events for new weaponry.”
The oddest-looking tool in the Iranian military’s arsenal may be the armor-plated bus called Rategh, or “opener.” War is Boring described it as a fortified civilian bus with loudspeakers and a small plow mounted on the front, a vehicle best suited for democracy protests and not battlefield skirmishes.
Tehran’s vaunted Shahed-285 attack helicopter, which the regime has touted for two decades, is a gilded Bell 206, according to the blog. At this year’s event, the chopper performed a rare demonstration flight from Al Ghadir, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Air Force base near Tehran.
Although there are five known Shahed versions, including a naval version with anti-ship missiles and an anti-tank model, War is Boring cautions, “Don’t get too excited. You can hang all the stuff you want off of a Bell 206. It’s still a Bell 206.”
It was the first ceremony since last February, when Mohammad Ali Al-e Hashem, head of the Army's Ideological and Political Organization, boasted that Iran is a full-scale producer of war equipment.
“Iran imported nearly all its military hardware from abroad before the victory of the Islamic Revolution, but today it is a manufacturer of advanced military hardware in the world,” Al-e Hashem said.
The weeklong event also featured the Asefeh Gatling gun. Iranian military officials claim matte-black gun, whose name means “tornado,” fires 23-millimeter shells at a rate of 1,000 rounds per minute. The Asefeh was trotted out in 2013 as an anti-cruise missile weapon, but this year, it was re-introduced as a heavy assault gun for use against ground targets.
Iran has its own version of the American-made Bushmaster Adaptive Combat Rifle, in the 5.56-millimeter Fatih assault rifle. The Iranian defense industry has designed at least a dozen similar rifles in the past decade in an effort to replace old AK-47s, according to War is Boring. The Fatih failed this year, jamming after firing a few demonstrative shots at its own inauguration ceremony.
During Sacred Defense Week, Iran also unveiled at least one new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle—probably a target drone—and a new all-terrain version of the Safir jeep.
While much of the conventional gear Iran displayed is no match for the world’s top militaries, it also is not likely Iran’s most formidable weaponry, said Frank Gaffney, president and founder of the Center for Security Policy, a Washington-based research institute.
“They’re putting on a Potemkin village display on the one hand, while they’re also working on a lot of asymmetrical components that could be quite formidable,” Gaffney said, listing the regime’s work on electro-magnetic pulse, cyber and satellite warfare, in addition to its ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“They are formidable for many reasons, but I don’t know that I would put a whole lot of stock in the missiles and equipment they are rolling out on the streets of Tehran.”
Iran recently appeared to overstate its conventional military power when it claimed to be sending two warships toward U.S. waters — one of which barely survived a 1988 run-in with an American fighter jet. The ships, the frigate Sabalan and Kharg, a supply ship capable of carrying helicopters, are believed to have turned back early into their journey.
A photo of Iran’s Qaher 313 stealth fighter jet, which the regime calls “one of the most sophisticated fighter jet in the world,” was roundly dubbed a Photoshop fake after it was published in the state-controlled Khouz News.
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi angrily lashed out at the criticism in an interview last year.
“The western media policy is to tell you that the Qaher is a mock-up,” he said. “This is a cheap talk and shows that enemies are worried about Iran’s advancements in several fields, including defense industries.”