In this the first part of my own war gaming of Iranian responses to strikes against its nuclear program and presents an over-view of Iranian military history, assets, and capabilities. They are not exhaustive and in some cases been generalized in order to keep the size of the part down. The information presented are from open sources found on the internet and other reference books.
New reports recently indicated that the military has recently wargamed various scenarios involving conducting a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities to stop or delay their efforts to create a nuclear weapon. Those reports indicated that their war games resulted in an expanded conflict with Iran that could not be contained.
Since Iran could be the next target in the WOT, I wanted to give you an idea how IMHO Iran would/could respond and some of the wild card / variables that would have to be dealt with. The following scenario, with some modifications, could be seen if Israel conducts the preemptive strike OR if Iran conducts its OWN preemptive attack.
The historical background provides insight into potential actions by Iran and why. There are three key points that I think need to be examined.
1. Following the theocratic revolution of 1979, Iran wanted to be the defacto primary Islamic influence on not only the Persian Gulf but the larger world. The ability to make nuclear weapons would be the culmination of that strategic goal.
2. Religious ties to southern Iraq.
3. The Iran - Iraq war.
Irans efforts to influence world geopolitics started with the capture of our Embassy staff. It has since morphed into the active and covert support of terrorism throughout the world spreading the Iranian theocratic form of Shiite Islam. Its covert support of terrorism protected it from direct assault in the pre-9/11 world. Russia saw a natural ally against American influence in the middle east region and developed ties with Iran. But beyond opposing the Great Satan - America, the theocracy of Iran wants to destroy the nation of Israel and has vowed to do so at what ever cost. It is to this end that the development of nuclear weapons and long range ballistic missiles to carry have has become a priority. In the post 9/11 world, Iran has been squarely placed on notice that its support of world-wide terror has made it a target for American action. The world has generally said that Iran needs to stop the research and development immediately. This has increased the urgency of the Iranian effort to create the bomb.
The American liberation of Iraq has created an opportunity for Iran to try to thwart US plan for a democratic Iraq and in its place, to create a theocracy. A true democratic Iraq would threaten Iran who is already facing a growing pro-democracy movement that could topple the religious rulers. Iran has a ready made support base - the Shiite majority in southern Iraq. The most holy sites for Shiites are also in southern Iraq. Agents from Iraq have been identified and captured in fighting in Iraq and are believed to be scattered throughout the countrys south. Many believe Al-Sadr directives are coming from Iran. This permits agents and potential special forces to blend in with the local population and have a degree of support. These agent would provide exceptional and timely intelligence of current troop locations, command posts, and supply depots.
However, in the event of a preemptive strike, the potentially biggest concern would be the Iranian military. How the Iranian military would be used requires a review of its battles with Iraq, its previous encounters with the US military and watching first hand military operations in Iraq. In reviewing its war with Iraq during the 1980s two key items become apparent:
1. It recognized Iraqs limited seaport access.
2. It recognized the vulnerability of oil shipping in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz
I expect that these two points will strongly influence Iranian military operations, tactical and strategic goals.
Iranian Military Capabilities
Although Iran has spent millions to upgrade its military forces, it is still not much better than when it fought with Iraq 20 years ago. Regular ground forces consist of approximately 4 armored, 6 mechanized and 2 special forces divisions and 14 independent brigade/groups. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) consists of about 4 Armored, 16 mechanized divisions and 10-11 independent brigade/groups. IRGC divisions are smaller than the Regular divisions, sometimes equivalent to the strength of one brigade. IRGC units are the crack units, with the best trained, equipped and religiously motivated soldiers. These units became well known towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war for their human wave attacks.
There are approximately 1700 tanks of which only about 400 are a high quality T-72 series. The rest are a mixture of T-62, T-55 series, Chieftain and M-47/48/60 series. APC are a mixture of M-113, BTR50/60, MT-LB, BMP-1 and -2 for at total of about 1500. The artillery consists of about 3000 pieces including MRLs of a wide variety of self propelled and towed guns and howitzers. The army is also equipped with a mixture of soviet era anti aircraft artillery and surface to air missiles.
Iranian airpower is relatively limited and on the old side. Between 175 to 200 combat aircraft are believed to be available. Included are a limited number of F-14A and Mig-29 (94 total, 50 in service) and F-4, Mirage F1 and Su-24 and -25.
The Iranian navy is second only to the US navy as the dominant force in the Gulf. Iran has spent more money in its navy, second only to the strategic missile and nuclear developments. Its focus has been small, fast maneuverable vessels with anti-ship missile capabilities. Among recent acquisitions are Chinese Hudong fast patrol boats (Osa II design) and 25 light attack vessels from N. Korea. The missile boats are carrying newer Chinese C-802 anti ship missiles. The C-802 is a turbo jet powered missile and will eventually replace the older Silkworm missiles. Also included are torpedo boats, semi-submersibles and three Kilo class submarines. The Kilo class subs are armed with wake-seeking torpedoes. Iran has also developed a considerable capability in mine warfare particularly with the acquisition from China of the rocket delivered EM-52 rising mine that can be deployed in waters too deep for other types of mines.
Iranian core strategic assets consist of SCUD-C and Chinese CSS-8 ballistic missiles. With the assistance of N. Korea, Iran has accelerated its internal ballistic missile program with the development of the Shehab-2 (Scud-D variant) and Shehab-3 missiles. While the other missiles give the Iranians the capability to strike any country in the Gulf, the development of the Shehab-3 missile is a significant development for the Iranians. This is the first asset that the Iranians have that can strike any where in Israel and they allege that it can even strike England.
Warheads for these missiles consist of conventional high explosives as well as chemical (nerve and blister) and potentially biological. However, the Shehab-3 is probably designed to be nuclear - tipped. Iran reports that the Shehab-3 is operational and if so, is probably equipped with either a HE or potentially chemical/biological warhead pending development of a nuclear warhead.
Part 1 Observations and Conclusions
Iran has a military that has not been degraded after 12 years of airstrikes and Desert Storm. However, it is still a force that cannot be dismissed too easily as it has the capabilities to inflict severe damage and as will become apparent in follow-on parts, can really mess things up for the US in Iraq for a while. However, in the long term, absent nuclear capability, the country would not be able to sustain a long-term campaign against the US.
Internal challenges to the ruling religious leaders consist of the growing democracy movement. The theocracy must maintain enough loyal forces to contain any protests while supporting any combat actions against the US.
In the next part of this series, I will evaluate the potential theater of conflict, potential Iranian military and political goals of the attack. And in the final part I hope to outline the development of the potential conflict in a relatively chronological order to whatever the end may be.
In this part I want to evaluate the potential military and political goals and the theater of operations of any Iranian military response to an attack on its nuclear weapons development infrastructure. This will provide a clue as to any perceived weakness that the US and its allies or Iraq may have that could be exploited to their advantage. Iran knows that any military response against the US or its allies could have potentially devastating effects upon its own regime. However, there is also an islamic fervor of invincibility as the true Islamic state with allahs favor resting upon them.
However, before I go further, Id like to cover an issue that has come out very recently concerning Iranian military doctrine - asymmetrical warfare. The completion of their recent wargames was suppose to be a demonstrations of these capabilities. So what is asymmetrical warfare? Asymmetrical warfare is in the simplest of terms warfare that applies comparative advantages against an enemys weaknesses. This is not a new or particular revolutionary concept. The U.S. military attempts to engage in asymmetrical warfare whenever we meet an enemy on the modern battlefield. The implicit premise is that asymmetric warfare deals with unknowns, with surprise in terms of ends, ways, and means. The more dissimilar the opponent, the more difficult it is to anticipate his actions. Any competent enemy will do the unexpected, if he believes it will work. This may provide a tactical or strategic advantage until it is countered. Therefore, Irans announcement that it has a doctrine of asymmetric warfare indicates that it is trying to develop a degree of sophistication in its military that it can counter anything that the US / allies or Israel may do to it. Part of the recent Iranian news release pointed to the military maneuvers and the integration of close air support, airlifting of heavy armor, use of new tanks, and missile capabilities. So much of this parts discussion naturally looks at Iranian advantages in the theater and how they may exploit them.
The political goals of an attack by Iran will likely focus on the following:
1. Rally support from the rest of the arab world against the US and Israel. This would be particularly true if a first strike is conducted against Iran by either Israel or the US. It would be much harder to obtain world support if Iran launches its own preemptive attack.
2. Embarrass the US and its allies militarily under conditions that cause them high casualties and / or tactical stalemate.
3. Deter further escalation of combat against Iran through the deployment of its forces and the preparation of defensive positions against a ground assault.
Attacking Israel is one of the tried and true means of gathering support of the arab world as well as to some degree some European nations. Just as Saddam was quick on the trigger to launch against Israel during Desert Storm, Iran will be quick to do the same. Propaganda broadcast by arab networks like Al-Jazera will further their cause to sway world opinion. There would be a lot of calling to jihad to fight the Christian crusaders. Any success against the US or Israel would naturally enhance their prestige and position of leadership for the arab cause and their bargaining position.
If Iran is able to successfully accomplish its military goals and place allied forces at a disadvantage, though probably temporally, would work to sway opinions in the US and allied nations. Already Iran is well aware of the divisive nature of the current operations in Iraq due to the current election campaigns. If they could inflict a single big time defeat, such as damaging or sinking an aircraft carrier, they could use that in an attempt to turn public opinion. If their special operations forces are successful in triggering wide spread disruptions of allied operations away from any point of attack, it would further show their superiority against the Great Satan. The ultimate goal would be to leverage their successes so that they could negotiate from a position of power.
Once their initial objects were achieved, the Iranian military would prepare for any potential counter attack that may be mounted. They realize that although the US has substantial forces in Iraq, they would have difficulty organizing a major counter attack and would need to be reinforced from the US, a process that could take weeks or months to get ground forces to the theater. By this phase of their political plans self survival of the theocracy would be foremost, especially if their initial operations are less than successful.
Military Objectives - Ground
As presented in Part 1, Iran has adequate forces to conduct ground operations against the US and its allies. However, because of the risk involved, Iran will carefully apply their forces where they could best obtain their objectives. Should they choose to attack into Iraq, they have two general options. The first consists of an attack into northern Iraq where there are limited resources and a hostile Kurdish population. The second, more likely option is to attack into southern Iraq where they may find sympathic Shiites, the bulk of Iraqs petrochemical facilities and the supply lines supporting the US and its allies.
Their main thrust would be relatively small section of Iraq between Basrah and the Persian Gulf and southward to control crossing points between Iraq and Kuwait. This strike would cut off the supply lines for the US and allied forces, creating a blockade. Iran is familiar with this territory as it was fought over during the 1980s war with Iraq. This was very effective until the US became involved in securing the Gulf and protecting shipping, allowing Iraq once again to receive supplies and material. It would be to Irans advantage to maintain the blockade as long as possible since it would significantly impact the US and allied forces in a similar manner.
I would also expect a supporting attack further north towards Amarah would serve to threaten the flank of any allied counter attack by units coming south out of Baghdad.
Military Objectives - Special Operations
There are significant numbers of Iranian special operations forces operating in Iraq right now. Their objective would be to stir up trouble and tie down US and coalition forces through multiple guerrilla attacks upon strategic targets such as logistic and command centers. Wide spread attacks would force the allies to either allow the terrorists to take over for a short time while they organize a counter attack or try to suppress the uprising and wait on the counter attack. Either way, the special operations forces have achieved their objective. If the allies organize right away for an attack, rear area operations will become difficult again as logistic and any supply lines would be hit. Freezing the allied attack would give ground forces time to consolidate their positions so that any counter attack would require a substantial troop build-up to be successful while maintaining the peace throughout the rest of Iraq.
Military Objectives - Sea
The main objective of Iranian naval forces would be to deny the use of the Persian gulf to the US fleet or to make it very costly. This would include attacks against any carrier battle group stationed there as well as trying to close the straits of Hormuz to all shipping. The goal is to develop a blockade of Iraq by sea long enough for ground forces to achieve their objectives. It would be very dangerous for the US to underestimate the Iranian capabilities. Our capital ships are vulnerable to shore-launched missiles as was apparent during Desert Storm when one of our amphibious assault ships was struck shortly after the ground assault began. Irans smaller, fast attack missile boats could launch hit and run attacks and with the newer chinese missiles could inflict some serious damage. Iranian submarines could do one of two things. First would be to try to inflict a first strike against the carrier group. Success is problematical since if a first strike against Iran is carried out by the Israelis or US, they would be alert too the threat. A more likely scenario would be to deploy the subs to attack undefended oil tankers and supply ships along shipping lanes coming into the Persian Gulf. This would send oil prices sky rocketing and inflict terror in the region. Unless US naval assets keep close tabs on their movements, US naval assets would initially be hard pressed to find them while at the same time dealing with the hit and run tactics and shore missile attacks. Finally, the occupation of US naval forces will divert support from ground troops to the fleet for a period of time, helping Iranian ground forces achieve their objectives.
Military Objectives - Air
Although their weakest asset, the recent wargames have indicated that they have developed a degree of close air support capability that could be used to support the ground assault. The best of the airforce would likely be held close to Tehran to protect the government, however, they would have a period of time to act while US naval air assets are dealing with the Iranian navy hit and run attacks and USAF assets are providing ground support to suppress guerilla attacks. Some assets could also be diverted to the east for counter shipping operations.
Military Objectives - Strategic Assets
Coalition difficulties in finding Scud launchers during Desert Shield / Storm will be exploited by Iran for counter attacks in the theater. Baghdad Green Zone housing the coalition and Iraqi headquarters would be one of their first targets. Oil facilities in the north would also be vulnerable as they may want to keep the facilities in the south somewhat intact for their own potential use. The longer range Shehab-3 missiles will likely be launched mostly at Israel to garner support of the arab countries with some potentially being launched towards England, Italy, or other european country to develop dissention in Europe against the US/Israel in support of stopping any prolonged operation against Iran for fear that they may be struck again. Other conventional targets would be the oil facilities of any Gulf countries supporting the coalition, again to raise terror, gain world support for a negotiated settlement of the conflict or black mail them into denying more support to the US for any counter attack.
Absolute worse case scenario would be that they use chemical / biological warheads. This is assuming that they dont have the nuclear warheads yet. This could be the wild card if Iranian objectives are not being adequately met. The most likely target would be Israel because if they respond with a nuclear strike there would be a great deal of pressure on Israel to justify the strike. Any justification would be generally rejected by many arab nations as a Zionist lie and would be viewed with skepticism by many in Europe.
A chemical/biological strike against US / coalition forces could work to increase anti-war opinions among the allies due to casualties or could back lash into a severe and potential nuclear strike by the US. However, because of close Russian ties, a nuclear counter strike by the US would be very dangerous and could pull Russia in on the Iranian side. That of course could fuel anti-war sentiment in the US and allied countries and gain more support from arab countries. However, this would also result in a major escalation of hostilities and the direct attack of Iran by US and coalition forces.
Part 2 - Conclusions and Observations
As you can see from Part 2, the Iranians have the capability to conduct asymmetrical warfare against the US and allied countries by focusing their strengths against our weaknesses in the region and they have a chance to succeed in the goals Ive listed. Iran would hope for quick success and the gaining of world opinion for a negotiated cessation of hostilities before the US and allies can effectively counter attack. Iran knows that once US military forces are marshalled, its days are numbered and could increase the chance that Iran could use more desperate measures. Israel will be attacked no matter what with a high possibility that chemical and biological weapons could be used. The US response would need to be carefully balanced and measured to prevent Russian intervention of behalf of Iran and to bring the conflict to a swift conclusion.
In Part 3, I will look at a couple of more detailed scenarios that I think could occur and their potential outcomes.