Monday, September 15, 2014

The Military Capabilities of Iran

Updated March 2016

Now that Iran has finally signed a nuclear deal with P5+1, it is important to keep in mind that the nation still has a massive inventory of conventional weapons as you will see in this posting.  

Estimates of Iran's military capability vary widely so for the purposes of this posting, I am relying on several sources.  Iran's current military budget is around $10 billion annually or 3 percent of the nation's GDP plus an additional $12 and $14 billion spent on missile programs, nuclear capability, intelligence activity and support of foreign non-state actors (i.e. Hezbollah).  According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute database, this is what Iran's military expenditures look like in constant U.S. dollars and as a percentage of GDP back to 1988:

Please note that these figures do not include spending on Iran's Revolutionary Guard or any other Iranian paramilitary forces.

Compared to its Persian Gulf neighbours, Iran's spending on defense is low; about 25 to 30 percent of what is spent by Saudi Arabia and about 20 percent of the amount allocated by the six sheikhdoms in the Gulf region.  Most sources including Jane's, United States Intelligence and the International Institute of Strategic Studies indicate that Iran's military is still reliant on arms acquired by the Shah in the 1970s and that these aging weapons systems have been bulked up by the acquisition of relatively low-grade weapons systems imported from China, North Korea and Vietnam during the war with Iraq.  Iran has also acquired limited materiel from Russia, including short range missiles, a few aircraft, three Kilo-class submarines and TOR short-range surface-to-air missiles.

According to a wide number of sources, Iran has the following conventional military arsenal:

Military Personnel: 460,000 plus total which is comprised of 220,000 regular ground forces, 130,000 Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ground forces, 18,000 regular navy, 20,000 IRGC navy, 52,000 regular Air Force, 5000 IRGC Air Force.  Active Reservists: 1.8 million.

Security Forces: 40,000 to 60,0000 law enforcement and 600,000 Basij security/paramilitary forces.

Tanks: 1,800 plus including 480 Russian-mad T-72.  Some reports show up to 2409 tanks plus 1550 Armoured Fighting Vehicles

Ships: 100 plus including 4 Corvettes and 18 IRGC-controlled Chinese-made patrol boats.

Submarines: 3 Kilo-class diesel-powered submarines acquired at a cost of around $600 million each in the 1990s.  As shown in this photo, it appears that Iran recently launched a new class of submarine called the Fateh, a 40 metre long sub that is much larger than its 29 metre long Ghadir and Nahang class midget submarines:

It appears that Iran has between 10 to 19 Ghadir-class submarines which are based on North Korean technology.  None of Iran's submarines are capable of firing either ballistic or cruise missiles but can launch both mines and torpedoes.  Iran has reportedly developed a high speed torpedo, the Hoot, that can reach speeds up of to 233 miles per hour.

Combat Aircraft: 330 plus including 35 MiG-29, 30 Su-24, 13 Su-25K, 10 French Mirages and 24 Chinese F-7Ms.  Iran still uses F-4 (64 aircraft), F5 (over 80 aircraft) and F-14 (44 aircraft) fighter aircraft acquired during the Shah's tenure - about 60 percent of Iran's military aircraft were acquired during the Shah's rule.  Iran has reportedly already transferred between ten and twelve of its Sukhoi Su-25 ground-attack aircraft to Iraq for its battle against ISIS.  Here is a video showing the Su-25 Frogfoot:

Anti-Aircraft Missile Systems: Russia delivered 30 anti-aircraft missile systems (TOR M1) in January 2007.  Iran has its own version of the S-300 air defense system called the Mersad.  Iran has an inventory of 880 multiple-launch rocket systems as well.

Sea Mines: Around 2000

Missiles:  In 2007, Iran was the third-most active missile testing country in the world after Russia and China.  Iran's missile system includes the 800 mile range Shahab-3, the 1200 to 1500 mile range Shahab-3 Variant, the 1500 mile range BM-25 (sourced from North Korea) and it is believed that Iran is developing an intercontinental ballistic missile system with a range of 3000 miles (projected completion in 2015).  In 2006, Iran reportedly tested a Shahab-4 missile with a range of 2400 miles.  As well, Iran has an increasingly capable inventory of short-range ballistic missiles including the Fateh 110 (range 200 miles) and the Shahab-1 and 2.  In 2007, Iran was the third-most active missile testing country in the world after Russia and China.  On top of its domestic missile program, in 2005 Iran imported 12 Soviet-era cruise missiles from Ukraine that have a range of 2100 miles.

Here is a video showing a Shahab-3 missile test:

Lastly, here is a map showing the locations of the key military bases in Iran, showing their proximity to the Iraqi border:

It is important to keep in mind that Iran did supply significant logistical assistance to the United States in the early days of the hostilities in Afghanistan.  In fact, Iran, along with the United States, was a member of the United Nations Six-Plus-Two talks that were held to outline a program of regional co-operation on political issues concerning Afghanistan and the Taliban.  In December 2001, American and Iranian envoys were working together at the international Conference on Afghanistan that was held to appoint a new leader for the new post-war Afghanistan and set the direction for the nation.  Unfortunately, this put an end to any reduction in strain between the two nations:

Given the current nuclear negotiations with Iran, it is interesting to see how well armed the nation is and how, with or without nuclear weapons, Iran would still have plenty of firepower to destabilize the region.

Additional References:


  1. The US needs to realize that it can’t control everything about over countries internal affairs, once it does that it can look back and understand what happen in Iran in the 1970s and how if we treat them like equals they can be a valuable partner. But I fear the neocons and their infinite arrogance are calling the shots. This battle against ISIS will only result in helping to push up the stock prices of military industrial complex companies. The MIC will benefit when the US and whatever allies they can muster need to restock and put in their large inventory turning over orders.

  2. Yeah, NeoCons and do not forget the 900 lb. Gorrilla Aipac that sets Mideast polict in Washington