John Sneller, head of aviation at defense consultancy Jane’s IHS Markit, also identified the plane as a two-seater F-5F. Speaking to CNBC by phone Wednesday, Sneller said the aircraft shown in images released by Iran had obvious design elements of the U.S.-made plane.
“The markings on the side, particularly the slightly unusual air intakes that slope backwards slightly, are those of the F-5F,” he said, adding, “It is all a bit of a giveaway really.”
Sneller said he believed Iran is trying to demonstrate that it still has fighter jet capability and that it is also suggesting to international watchers that the aircraft’s internal systems have been updated.
He said with pressure coming from the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia, leaders in Tehran would also be keen to show their own people that Iran has some way of protecting itself.
“They are developing their own indigenous capability — but that is a long way from designing, certifying, and manufacturing their own aircraft, and that does not look to be the case in this particular set of images that have come out,” Sneller said.
The current estimate by Jane’s IHS Markit is that Iran has 31 single-seater F-5E jets and 17 two-seater F5-F aircraft in service.
Iran’s military had a 2017 budget of $14.1 billion, or 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), according to figures supplied by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).