Written by Colonel N. Turchin, Candidat of Military Sciences, Lieutenant-Colonel A. Volodin; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2020 #6, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The ground forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) are one of the main branches of the armed forces of the country, which are organisationally part of the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), they have their own management system and are subordinate to the commanders of the army and IRGC.
The Ground Forces of the Army (GFA) are designed to solve strategic, operational (operational-tactical) tasks in land theaters of military operations by conducting or participating in independent or joint (with other types of armed forces) air-ground defensive (offensive) operations on their territory, and if necessary, beyond its borders. The main tasks of the GFA:
- maintaining the necessary level of combat training of personnel, ensuring readiness for operational and mobilisation deployment;
- operational equipment of the country’s territory, creation of weapons stocks, military equipment and other material resources;
- participation in the elimination of the consequences of natural disasters;
in the threat period:
- increasing the number of personnel, increasing the combat and mobilisation readiness of troops;
- completion of formations and units, as well as territorial bodies of military administration to wartime states;
- operational deployment of troops in threatened areas and preparation of military equipment for combat use;
- preparation of initial defensive operations, covering the state border;
in time of war:
- conducting defensive combat operations in order to hold the occupied borders, districts and territories, inflicting maximum damage to the advancing group of troops of the probable enemy and creating conditions for the subsequent transition to a counteroffensive;
- participation together with the Air Force, Navy, Air Defence Forces and means of the army and the IRGC in repelling missile and bomb attacks of the potential enemy;
- organisation in conjunction with the Navy and Air Force of the army of anti-amphibious defence.
The GFA management system in peacetime consists of the Ground Forces Army Command, the GF Army Operational Commands in operational areas, as well as the control bodies of formations.
The central body of military administration is the Command of the Army’s Ground Forces, which is headed by the Commander. The main command post is located in the north-east of Tehran, the reserve, in the mountainous region of Kuchak.
Operational commands are formed in the north-western, western, southern, south-eastern and north-eastern operational directions and begin to function with the start of operational deployment of the IRI Armed Forces, and in peacetime there are headquarters of reduced operational commands.
The GFA includes formations and units of various branches of the Armed Forces (infantry, armoured, mechanised, airborne, rocket troops and artillery, army aviation), special forces (electronic warfare, engineering and communications), technical and logistics support units, and military police. The basis of the combat structure is made up of infantry, armoured, mechanised airborne brigades, as well as special purpose and rapid response brigades.
The combat strength of the GF Army consists of 4 brigades (armoured, infantry, airborne, amphibious assault), 47 separate brigades (20 infantry, 3 mechanised, 14 armoured, airborne, 9 special forces), 19 separate groups (rocket, 6 artillery, anti-aircraft artillery, 2 electronic warfare, 5 communications, 2 engineering and 2 medical), 11 brigades (bases) or army aviation.
An armoured brigade consists of a headquarters, two or four tank and infantry battalions, an armoured cavalry battalion, artillery and air defence divisions, as well as combat and logistics support units.
In total, the armoured brigade has: about 5,000 personnel, 80 tanks, 80 AIFV (CVAs), more than 50 guns and mortars, about 30 air defence systems, “Chieftain” medium tanks, M-47, T-72 and Iranian-made “Zulfiqar” tanks, 175-mm M-107 and 203.2-mm M-110 self-propelled howitzers, 120-mm self-propelled mortars, as well as 35-mm “Oerlikon” anti-aircraft guns and 23-mm ZU-23-2.
An infantry brigade consists of a headquarters, two to four infantry battalions, a tank battalion, artillery, air defence units, as well as combat and logistics support.
In total, the infantry brigade has: about 5,000 personnel, up to 50 tanks, 100 AIFV (APCs), 50 guns and mortars, about 120 air defence systems, 155-mm M-109 and 130-mm M-46 howitzers, 122-mm MLRS BM-21, 120-, 106.7-mm M-30 and 81-mm mortars.
The mechanised brigade consists of a headquarters, two or four mechanised and reconnaissance battalions, one or two artillery divisions, an anti-tank and engineering companies, an air defence group and a company of radiation, chemical and biological protection and intelligence.
The number of personnel of the brigade is up to 2,200 people. It is armed with: AIFV-1, -2, APC-60PB (Russian production), APC M-113, 175-mm SGM-107 and 203.2-mm M-110, 120-mm SM, 122-mm MLRS BM-21, as well as 35-mm ZU “Oerlikon” and 23-mm ZU 23-2, mobile “Toufan-1, -2” ATGMs, “Saege-1, -2”, “Tousan” and “Raad”, as well as “Concours-M”.
The forces and means of the army aviation are subordinate to the Army Aviation Command (part of the GF command, Tehran).
The army aviation brigade consists of combat units (attack helicopters, amphibious assault and transport helicopter battalions), as well as combat and logistics support units.
The army logistics command of the GF Army is responsible for all types of support, subordinate to rear areas, the base of supply (munitions, food and material-technical property), warehouses of combustive-lubricating materials, transport companies and platoons of the resupply of the material equipment, repair facilities.
The main weapons and military equipment of the IRI GF are represented by foreign sample of Soviet (Russian), American, English and Chinese production, as well as some products produced by the Iranian military- industrial complex under license or by direct copying.
The tank fleet has the following models: M-47, M-60, Mk-2/3 “Chieftain”, T-62A, T-54/55 “Scorpion”. The most modern products of national production are the MBT “Karrar”, T-72S “Zulfikar-1” and T-72S “Zulfikar-2”. Armoured combat vehicles are represented by AIVF-1, AIVF-2, APC M-133, APC 60PB and APC “Borak”.
The rocket and artillery units and units in their composition have: TP “Fateh-POM”, “Zelzal-3” and “Nazeat-6, -10, 203.2-mm SG M-110, 175-mm SG M-107, 155-mm BG M-109, 130-mm BP M-46, MLRS “Fajr-5” and 122-mm BM-21, 120-, 106.7 and 81-mm towed mortars.
To combat armoured vehicles, there are the ATGM launchers “Malyutka”, “Concours”, “Dragon”, “Tow”, 011 -9, Pill-22, Pill-7, as well as various types of recoilless guns. Currently, the number of anti-tank complexes of national production, such as “Toufan-1, -2” (prototype “TOU-2A”), “Saege-1, -2” (analog of ATGM “Dragon”), “Tousan”, “Raad” (analog of ATGM “Malyutka”), is significantly increasing in parts and formations of the IRI GF.
The aircraft and helicopter fleet of the Army Aviation of the IRI is represented by the AH-1G “Cobra” attack helicopters, AV-205 and AV-206 “Ranger” fire support helicopters, CH-47A “Chinook” transport helicopters, AV-212, AV-214 general purpose helicopters, Cessna-type communication and control aircraft.
Units of the air defence forces are armed with ZSU 57-2, ZU57-1, ZU 35-2 “Oerlikon”, “Bofos”, ZU-23-2, MANPADS “Strela-2, -3”, and Iranian-made “Misag-1, -2”.
The main problem of the country’s GFS is the serious moral lag between the existing models of weapons and military equipment and the modern world analogues, the exhaustion of a significant part of their service life, and the lack of a developed repair and maintenance base that would enable the extension of the service life of armaments and equipment.
It is planned to increase the combat capabilities of formations and units by solving the following main tasks: improving the organisational structure of control bodies, formations and units; equipping the GF with new weapons and military equipment; improving the system of training military personnel.
Significant fundamental changes are taking place in the field of improving the organisational structure of the Army in the Iranian Armed Forces. In particular, the divisions have already been transferred to a brigade basis. It is planned to significantly increase the share of special forces and rapid response teams in their composition.
In the framework of modernisation of the GFA the command of the Armed Forces decided to focus on the level of training of military personnel, especially officers and junior commanders. In military educational institutions, the role of teaching military disciplines (theoretical and practical courses) based on the experience of the operation of the coalition forces against Iraq has significantly increased.
The IRGC Ground Forces are a branch of the country’s Armed Forces, the backbone of its combat power. They are designed to perform strategic, operational (operational-tactical) missions on the ground theater, as well as to conduct independent or joint (with other types of forces) air and ground defence (offensive) operations and currently form the basis of the ground grouping of the Iranian GF, as this species outnumbers the Army of the IRI.
The general management carries out the GF IRGC commander who is responsible for maintaining the necessary level of combat capability and combat readiness of subordinate forces, the development and implementation of plans for their operational and combat use, training of staff and units to fulfill assigned combat tasks.
Structurally, this type of armed forces consists of control bodies, combat formations and units, units and of combat and logistics support, as well as military educational institutions and training centres.
The IR’s highest operational association in peacetime is the command with the corresponding groupings of troops (forces) in the operational area. Currently, the territory of Iran is divided into the following operational zones: Tehran and its suburbs, northern, central, north-western, western, south-western, southern, north-eastern and eastern provinces bordering Iraq.
The territorial corps are subordinate to the command in the operational zone (currently 32 are formed). According to its plans, the formation of the headquarters of such corps takes place during the threat period on the basis of the command structures of infantry or mechanised formations.
The combat composition of the corps included formations and units of the IRGC GF, as well as battalions of the Basij Resistance Forces (RF) stationed in the area of responsibility.
The IRGC GF has: 35 divisions (25 infantry, 5 armoured, 3 mechanised and 2 special purpose); 34 separate brigades (18 infantry, 2 mechanised, 4 armoured, 6 engineer-sapper, a brigade of chemical troops, airborne, indoctrination and special purpose); 12 separate groups (5 rocket-artillery, 2 artillery, air defence, 2 communications, engineer-sapper and engineering). They also include a separate engineering base.
The infantry division (ID) consists of the directorate, the division headquarters, three infantry and armoured brigades, artillery and air defence division, combat and logistics support units. The number of personnel of the ID is 10-12 thousand people, it is armed with up to 70 MBTs (T-55, T-59), 30 APCs, 12 105-mm howitzers, 11 107-mm towed MLRS, 18 106.07-mm and 40 81-mm mortars, 5 ATGMs launchers, 10 MANPADS.
The number of weapons and military equipment and the organisational structure of each RIGC infantry division varies depending on the tasks assigned.
An armoured division, as a rule, consists of management, a headquarters with a company headquarters, the headquarters of two armoured brigades, an infantry brigade, artillery and air defence divisions, combat and logistics support units. The number of divisions is 10-12 thousand people, it is armed with more than 150 tanks, 20 IFVs, 40 APCs, 24 106.7-mm, 12 120-mm and 60 81-mm mortars, 10 ATGM launchers, 15 106-mm recoilless guns, 30 MANPADS.
The separate infantry and armoured brigades of the IRGC GF are similar in their organisational structure and number of personnel, weapons and equipment to the brigades of the Army GF.
The basis of heavy weapons of the IRGC GF is made up of Soviet and Russian-made specimens. The most modern types of equipment are the T-72 MBT and the BMP-2 fighting vehicles. It should be noted that the Defence Industry Organisation (DIO) of the MoD and the Iranian Armed Forces support organisations have mastered the production of the Borak armoured combat vehicles (the Russian BMP-2 analogue) and “Raad-1” 122-mm self-propelled artillery units mounted on their chassis. The IRI also produces the 155-mm “Raad-2” self-propelled howitzer and self-developed “Sarir” and “Shenidar” armoured personnel carriers, which have high off-road capability and manoeuvrability.
At the same time, according to representatives of the DIO, industrial groups are able to produce up to 70% of components for the T-72 tank under a Russian licence.
In accordance with the construction programme of the Iranian Armed Forces major efforts are directed to raising the combat and mobilisation readiness, finding the optimal organisational structure of formations and units, improvement of management systems and comprehensive troops re-equipment support with new types of weapons and military equipment, increasing the level of training of staff and personnel, as well as the creation of optimal groups of troops (forces) in the most important areas.
The IRGC’s peacetime army staffing structure is based on the principle of “triple deployment” through the RF reserve system in case of war, i.e., an IRGC battalion forms a brigade, a brigade forms a division, and a division may form a corps.
Units of the “Basif” RF are traditionally supervised by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and it is within its structure that the leadership apparatus of these irregular paramilitary groups functions. In additional to addressing issues of ideological and patriotic education of young people, the leadership of the corps, remembering the precepts of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam R. Khomeini, about the need to create a 20-million army, considers this structure as the main, most prepared part of the mobilisation reserve of the Armed Forces.
The RF paramilitary formations have been transferred to the direct subordination of the commander of the IRGC, they have about 2 thousand battalions, and the total number of “Basij” is about 400 thousand people. The Iranian command plans to involve the Basij battalions not only in the mobilisation process of the Armed Forces under threat and during the war, but also in peacetime to actively carry out border security tasks, as well as to fight arms and drug smuggling jointly with the IRGC and the RF.
The main combat unit of the RF is the “Ashura” (male) and “Al-Zohra” (female) battalions, numbering from 450 to 500 people who have received special training in the RF system. Formations commanded by regular IRGC officers are irregular units.
Small arms and ammunition assigned to the militia in peacetime are stored in warehouses of units and division of the Armed Forces. Typically, each province has between 70 and 90 battalions, depending on the mobilisation resources. In addition, the corps is actively creating RF units, referred to as special forces groups “Beitol-Moqaddas”, “Karbala” and “Zolfakar”. Training of personnel in this category is carried out in training centres of airborne troops and units of Special Forces of the Armed Forces of Iran.
The main objectives of the development of the RF are: broad involvement of human resources, their training and subsequent use in the interests of protecting the country from possible aggression from an external enemy; participation and large-scale involvement of young people in the so-called scientific and technical jihad, designed to develop information and communication technologies in Iran; timely identification and elimination of threats to the ruling regime from opposition forces.
In accordance with the “Programme of General Reform of the Country’s Defence Capability”, organisational measures aimed at optimising the number, composition and structure of the IRGC GF formations (the creation of AA brigades in their structure, previously they were part of the IRGC AQS) continue to be implemented.
Upon completion of the reorganisation, as in the GF Army, it is expected to have a brigade as the main operational and tactical unit. The ongoing reform, according to the corps commander, will contribute to the optimisation of the command-and-control system, which in general will have a positive impact on the effectiveness of the operational use of troops in wartime.
At the same time, in the context of the aggravation of the foreign policy situation around the country and the threat of its escalation into an armed conflict, the command of this formation has developed a special programme for the relocation of formations and units of the GF located in large cities to new permanent locations, which are supposed to be in close proximity to the state border and away from large industrial centres.
The main problem of improving the combat capability and combat readiness of the IRGC’s Armed Forces remains the equipping of troops with modern weapons and military equipment. Based on international restrictions on the development of military-technical cooperation between Iran and other states, the main emphasis is placed on equipping the IRGC with its own production of military equipment, especially heavy equipment; new MBT, infantry fighting vehicles and armoured personnel carriers, artillery systems of both field artillery and anti-aircraft.
Thus, at present, the ground forces of the army and the IRGC of the Islamic Republic of Iran are able, in cooperation with other types of Armed Forces, to successfully solve the tasks of repelling aggression from any neighbouring state. At the same time, their capabilities, in particular the conduct of large-scale military operations in the event of an attack from more militarily powerful countries, will be severely limited. This is primarily due to the lack of the necessary number of modern weapons and military equipment, as well as the low stability of the control and communication system.
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