This post will examine the military capabilities of Iran. We want to know several levels of information:
a. What is the size of the Iranian military? What equipment and forces does it possess, and how much of each?
b. What is the disposition of the Iranian military? How well is it maintained, how frequently is it exercised, and in what capacity?
c. What is the experience of the Iranian military? Are its personnel battle-scarred veterans of past campaigns, or are they novices?
d. What is the philosophy of war of the Iranian military? How is war conceptualized within its services?
The information that I've found doesn't lend itself to these exact categories, but they are worth stating explicitly nonetheless.
First, the size and equipment of the Iranian military, its maintenance readiness, its exercise frequency and current dispostion: The magazine of the Air Force Association has quite a bit of good information in a December, 2002 article entitled, "The Iran Problem." The article has some tidbits about Iran's ground forces:
Epic, World War I-style battles with Saddam destroyed about 60 percent of Iran's heavy land weapons, according to Western estimates.So here are some raw numbers with which to start. Seems similar to Saddam's ground forces in overall organization, but Iran's are probably much better in terms of maintenance and training. How much of the ground force is conscripts? This would be good to know.
Today, with a population of more than 65 million to draw from, Iran has about 513,000 men in uniform. Another 200,000 to 350,000 are in the reserves, estimates Center for Strategic and International Studies expert Anthony H. Cordesman.
The army totals around 450,000 men. Of these, about 125,000 are Revolutionary Guards--ideological elite units formed after the fall of the Shah in 1979 to protect Iran's new theocracy. Iran's inventory of main battle tanks stands at roughly 1,100, with 1,200 other armored vehicles and more than 2,500 major artillery weapons.
The army also has about 100 AH-1J attack helicopters, but the readiness of these aircraft is unlikely to be very high.
Here's more on ground forces, from an article entitled "The Revolution of Military Affairs and the Middle East: If this is a Revolution, then we are the Counterrevolutionists." (PDF available here: http://www.cia.gov/nic/PDF_GIF_2020
The Iranian main battle tanks are the Russian T-72 tanks of which iran possesses roughly 400. These constitute roughly 25% of the armored forces of the Iranian military. Iran possesses and unknown number of anti-tank weapons as well as a number of wire-guided ATMLs, [anti-tank missiles] all old-generation weapons.Now back to the Air Froce Association, for some excerpts about air and naval forces:
. . . earlier this year, Iran took delivery of a shipment of North Korean gunboats that US intelligence believes will be converted into guided-missile warships. Combined with other recent naval and coastal defense acquisitions, which range from Russian Kilo-class submarines to Chinese Silkworm anti-ship missiles, the new boats could help Iran control important sections of the Persian Gulf in a crisis--including the strategic Strait of Hormuz. So we glean from this that Iran's aircraft are aging, and its air defenses are limited. Aside from numbers of missiles, it would be better to know the capability of the network connecting them is it countrywide or localized?
Today, Iran has only about 150 aging US-built aircraft left. These include 66 F-4D/Es and 25 F-14-A/Bs, which are about 60 percent serviceable, according to a net assessment drawn up by Cordesman. Iran has long tried to evade the US embargo on parts for these airplanes by purchasing through third parties.
The backbones of the Iranian air force today are 24 Su-24 Fencers and 30 MiG-29 Fulcrums. These Soviet-era aircraft are about 80 percent serviceable, claims Cordesman. If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, the Fencers could be used as an interim delivery capability, pending perfection of an adequate ballistic missile.
Iranian units also include 14 RF-4E and five P-3F reconnaissance aircraft. The air force has a limited aerial refueling capability. Air defense relies mainly on 100 Hawk missiles from the Shah's era, with a scattering of newer, shorter-range Soviet- and Chinese-made models.
Iran has for years had an across-the-board program of WMD development. Although it is a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, it has produced and stockpiled blister, blood, and choking chemical agents, according to US intelligence. It has a biological weapons arsenal and may be able to indigenously produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by late this decade, says a CIA estimate.
Iranian officials have spoken openly of their desire for missiles with a range beyond that of their Shahab-3, which can hit targets up to 800 miles away. The CIA believes Iran may flight-test a missile of intercontinental capability later this decade. The Iranian military has already deployed unmanned aerial vehicles, including some configured for attack, and may be seeking more sophisticated such aircraft to serve as a WMD delivery capability.
Of note in the above article is that the CIA estimates that Iran may flight-test an intercontinental missile later this decade. This year, only two years after the CIA was quoted, Iran successfully tested a 1200-mile range 'strategic missile'.
More on the Air Force, from the article about RMA in the Middles East:
. . . the Iranian air force is based on American F-14A Tomcats and F4E Phantoms and Russian Mig 29s. All excet the Mig 29s are older-generation jets. These are supported by a helicopter attack fleet of limited size and reach. These planes are equipped with Phoenix and Sidewinder air-to-air and Sparrow missiles, and with maverick and Russian Fajr a-Darya air-to-surface missles. Iran possesses a very small fleet of reconnaissance UAVs, but is clearly behind all the modernizing armies in the Middle East in terms of such aircraft.It appears that the Iranian military has one large-scale military exercise every two years. We can glean some more info from articles about Iran's various wargames in the past few years.
Troop movements already observed include tanks and artillery pieces along with "thousands of troops" of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, said the official.
The exercises are expected to last for several days.
Iranian Navy to Hold Exercises in Persian Gulf
He said the naval exercises, code-named "Vahdat 79" (Unity 79), will be held in an area of 5,000 square meters, covering the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and strategic Strait of Hormuz, the state IRNA news agency reported.
Some 130 ships and submarines, 58 airplanes, choppers and unmanned planes as well as 7,000 troops will take part in the large-scale war games.
Safari said the C-802 surface-to-surface missile will be deployed on IRGC's "Tondar" vessel for test fire. But he did not disclose any technical details about the missile.
This article implies some level of interoperability or coordination between their services:
The Iranian army staged military exercises in the Sea of Oman on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of retaking of a border city during the Iran- Iraq War, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Ground, navy and air forces took part in the war games to mark the liberation of Khorramshahr in Iran's Khuzestan Province, where fierce battles took place during the 1980-1988 war.
Destroyers, submarines, warships, gunboats, amphibious personnel carriers were involved in the exercises, IRNA said.
The military exercise is expected to continue with navy exercises on Wednesday.
In 2004 (as previously reported in The Adventures of Chester from an article worth reading at WorldTribune.com, here.)
Iran Exercise Reaches Climax:
Officials said the main stage of Payrovan-i Vilayat-2004 took place on Wednesday in southwestern Iran near the Iraqi border. They said air and ground units launched a night-time offensive on a mock enemy in a demonstration of Iran's rapid deployment capability.
They included the use of infantry, artillery, and armored units in an offensive backed by fighter-jets and helicopters. At the same time, engineering and bridging units erected bridges for infantry crossing.
Do the Iranians really have a joint military as they would have us think? Are their forces as capable as they seem from their press releases? Are these exercises meant to impress their own populace as much as the US or Israel?
Another excellent article in the Autumn 2004 Parameters, the journal of the US Army War College, takes issue with the idea that the Iranian military is well-maintained at all:
Irans geographic girth lends itself to a country with large standing armed forces, but Irans military today is weaker than it was in the wake of the revolutionary euphoria of 1979. The Iranians militarily lived off the Shahs US-provided arms and equipment to survive the Iran-Iraq War, but the war nearly exhausted their inventories and put enormous wear and tear on equipment holdings. They have managed to make due, in part, by cannibalizing American equipment to keep fewer armaments running, but these stopgap efforts are increasingly more difficult to muster to prolong the longevity of the military inventory. The Iranians also are using illicit means to bypass US restrictions on the export of military equipment to Iran. Iran has been hard-pressed to find direct external weapon suppliers to replace the United States. Michael Eisenstadt observes that in recent years Russia has been Irans main source of conventional arms, but Moscow has agreed not to conclude any new arms deals and to halt all conventional weapons transfers since September 1999.
Iran's most powerful asset is its ballistic missile force, which could be engineered to carry weapons of mass destruction. See this very informative report on Iran's Ballistic Missile Capabilities, which states that Iran is believed to possess some 20 or so Shahab-3 long range missiles, with a range of 800 miles and an accuracy of 2,500 meters not very good, but great for harassing assembly areas or delivering WMD.
The Experience of the Military
Much of the literature of the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-88 discusses the incredible human-wave attacks used by both sides. Any military personnel who remain no doubt remember this and wish to avoid it as a tactic. As the Parameters article states,
Tehran must have shuddered when witnessing the American military slashing through Saddams forces in the 2003 war. Iran already had a sense of its conventional military inferiority compared to American forces. Years ago Tehran received a direct taste of that from the American re-flagging operations in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, when the US Navy readily destroyed much of Irans conventional naval capabilities, leaving Iran to harass shipping with irregular hit-and-run gunboat attacks. In the spring 2003 war, American and British forces accomplished in about a month what Iranian forces had failed to do in eight years of war with Iraq between 1980 and 1988. Tehran cannot fail to appreciate that Iranian conventional forces would have little chance of resisting a US military assault.And they are no doubt preparing their conventional forces to resist as best as possible either through a linked, joint interoperability, or through the guerrilla warfare they have seen be so successful in Iraq.
Philosophy of War
Making the jump from human-wave attacks to a joint military force is quite a long leap, both conceptually and from a training and funding standpoint. While the Iranians may understand what makes the US so lethal, they probably cannot put together the necessary parts to replicate our lethality, as much as they might like to. Nevertheless, we don't want to completely discount their conventional forces. Let's leave it like this: their conventional forces are a more formidable adversary than the Iraqi forces, and are somewhere near the level of a second- or third-rate western power. returning to "The Revolution of Military Affairs and the Middle East:
There is little doubt that these two states may have wanted -- under ideal circumstances -- to take full part in the RMA in the Middle East, at least to the extent that states such as Egypt and Turkey have done in the last decade. The Keyproblem, however, is the limited access of hese states to RMA technologies, due to their strained relations with the United States. The major weapons supplier of those states is Russia, whoe RMA capabilities have been both obsolete and limited. Moreover repeated pressure from the United States on Russia and Western European states has limited both the number and the types of systems these supplieres were wiling to provide Syria and Iran. Consequently, these states have had significant problems in modernizing their armed forces . . . the Iranian and Syrian armed forces are laden with obsolete weapons systems and have barely entered the modern era in terems of their major conventional weapons systems. Both states rely on traditional force structures, rely heavily on Soviet military doctrine, and take fairly traditional approaches to conventional warfare.
Asia Times article about the A.Q. Khan network
The Iranian Air Force:
IIAF Imperial Iranian Air Force
Scramble on the Web - Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) and a chronology of its missile tests: Iran Missile Milestones.
The Iran-Iraq Air War
Iran-Iraq War In The Air 1980-1988 by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop
Loads of Info on Iran all kinds (though much of the military content is outdated)
AllRefer - Iran - Very Detailed Country Guide to Iran (around 200 Pages) | Iranian Information Resource
An MSNBC Summary
Secret empire: The Iran files