Iran’s newest gunship helicopter, unveiled Wednesday, might look awfully familiar to aviation historians. And it’s not unique in that regard. Almost all of Iran’s “new” weaponry — including jet fighters, ‘copters, warships, tanks, missiles and other equipment — is a copy of a much older U.S., British, Russian, Chinese or North Korean design.
But that doesn’t mean all of Tehran’s weapons suck. Far from it. While some of the sillier Iranian gear is obviously meant mostly for fleeting propaganda purposes, the main hardware is grounded in experience and hardship. Driven by desperation and shaped by the isolation that comes with widening external sanctions, Tehran’s copycat arsenal could contain a few nasty surprises for the U.S. and its allies in the unlikely event that tensions over Iran’s nuclear program come to blows.
For one, low-tech weapons force the users to fight creatively. “There’s a chance they’ll catch us by surprise,” Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Ward, an engineer and acquisitions expert and prolific writer (.pdf), tells Danger Room in an email.