Procurement: Copy Master


October 4, 2009: Iran is building a formidable arms industry by following the lead of China and the former Soviet Union. That is, Iran is obtaining small quantities of foreign weapons, and then reverse engineering them, and making their own copies (and calling them "Iranian designs.") Were Iran not already in so much trouble (and sanctioned several times over it) for terrorism, developing nuclear weapons, and generally behaving badly, they would be under a lot of pressure to halt their theft of intellectual property.

The most noticeable theft is from the United States, using the many American systems the Shah bought in the 1970s, before the clerical dictatorship took over in 1979. But since then, the Iranians have also adopted many Russian and North Korean weapons. Some of this stuff was licensed, but much more was simply taken. In the last decade, the Iranians have been purchasing weapons and military from European suppliers. These were obtained, despite sanctions against military sales, by claiming the small quantities were purchased for police use. Everyone winked, and went about their business.

One of the first European items copied were the Swedish Boghammer boats. These are aluminum speed boats, 41 feet (13.1 meters) long and weighing 6.4 tons. They have a hydroplane hulls (meaning that at high speed most of the hull rises out of the water, enabling speeds of up to 120 kilometers an hour). Iran got 51 Boghammars in the 1980s (for coast guard use), then began to build its own. The Boghammars Iran bought could do 82 kilometers an hour. The Iranian copies were a little larger and faster. The 29 Boghammars that survived battles with Iraq and the U.S. Navy, were later given larger engines. Several more variants on the Boghammar design were created in Iran, and now there are over a hundred of these small, heavily armed, craft in service.

More recently, Iran purchased a hundred Austrian Steyr-Mannlicher sniper rifles, and proceeded to build local copies. The original rifles were ostensibly for the police, but some were found in Iraq, being used by pro-Iranian militias. The Iranians have been successful in copying many low-tech items, and selling them, at attractive prices, to whoever will pay cash.

The Iranians have been unsuccessful in copying many technologies, especially electronic items. They have had more success with, tanks, rockets and aircraft. But these copies are rarely as good as the originals, and the Iranians lack the industrial capability to produce large quantities of everything they copy. Still, the effort makes for great propaganda, and the Iranians make the most of that with their frequent announcements of new Iranian designed and manufactured weapons.





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