Monday, June 24, 2019

Iran's Military Strength 2019 Edition - A Lengthy War of Attrition

With these tweets from Donald Trump, proclaiming America's military might, I thought that it was an excellent opportunity to present my readers with an analysis of Iran's military capabilities:

On an overall basis, when all aspects of the nation's military are considered, Iran's military strength is rated as 14th out of 137 in the world as shown on this graphic:

1.) Military personnel and potential personnel: According to Global Firepower, Iran has 523,000 active military personnel, putting it in eighth place in the world as shown here:

Iran also has 350,000 reserve personnel (17th place) and has 1,394,476 citizens reaching military age every year.  By way of comparison, the United States has 860,000 reserve personnel, Russia has 2,572,500 and China has 510,000 personnel in their reserves.  The United States has 4,188,274 citizens reaching military age every year, Russia has 1,306,449 and China has 19,614,518 citizens reaching military age annually.  The data concerning the number of citizens reaching military age is critical given that the wars of today often drag on for years and even decades meaning that nations must be able to recruit new members as their older military personnel age or either die or are injured in combat.

2.) Aircraft forces: On an overall basis, Iran's air strength ranking is not terribly impressive, coming in at 24th place, well behind the United States in first place, Russia in second place, China in third place and even Saudi Arabia, one of Iran's key foes, coming in twelfth place.  Iran has 509 military aircraft which is broken down as follows (with strength ranking in brackets):

Fighter aircraft - 142 (17th)
Attack aircraft - 165 (18th)
Transport aircraft - 89 (7th)
Training aircraft - 104 (29th)
Total helicopters - 126 (34th)
Attack helicopters - 12 (32nd)

Note that UAVs are not included in this total.

3.) Land forces: On an overall basis, Iran's land force ranking comes in at 18th place and can be broken down as follows:

Combat tanks - 1634 (18th)
Armoured fighting vehicles - 2345 (31st)
Self-propelled artillery - 570 (11th)
Towed artillery - 2128 (8th)
Rocket projectors - 1900 (4th)

4.) Naval Strength: On an overall basis, Iran is considered to have one of the world's more powerful naval forces when measured in terms of total inventory as shown here:

Iran's 398 naval assets are divided as follows:

Aircraft carriers - 0
Frigates - 6 (27th)
Destroyers - 0
Corvettes - 3 (32nd)
Submarines - 34 (5th)
Patrol vessels - 88 (9th)
Mine warfare - 3 (44th)

While it is clear that Iran's military is not on par with that of the United States, it does have sufficiently inventory and personnel as well as the technical expertise to wage a long war of attrition as they proved in the 1980s with Iraq, a nation that was largely armed by the United States.  Winning a war is not always dependent on military strength.  I believe that there are other factors at play in this case:

1.) The willingness of Russia and China to stand aside while the United States "re-engineers" Iran.    Both Russia and China have significant economic investments in Iran, particularly in the nation's oil and gas sector, that they will absolutely not want to fall into the hands of Washington.  

2.) The willingness of American voters to see American military personnel return home in body bags, particularly if hostilities are lengthy.

3.) The willingness of Iranians to defend their homeland from an outside attacker whether or not  they back their current government leadership.  When someone's home is threatened, logic does not always play a role in an individual's decision-making process.  We also have to keep in mind that the religious leadership is well-entrenched in Iran, unlike the situation with Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

While the United States forces may be "cocked and loaded", the outcome of a war against Iran is anything but certain.  Once American servicemen start dying for this rather nebulous cause, it will be the reaction of American voters that will ultimately determine the extent and duration of yet another Middle East military, nation re-engineering "adventure".


  1. While the Iranian forces are nowhere equal to the US forces they are on home ground while US forces are at end of a 8,000 km logistic train.

    The US forces overall are much greater than that of Iran's but the US presumably have commitments for home defence and in other parts of the world. I wonder just how much of the US forces can be committed to an attack on Iran?

    The next question is, "Were are the US ground and air elements going to be based?" If one looks around the region, I doubt that anyone is really going to be ready to offer space, for any number of reasons.

    Iran is going to be a beast to just get to let alone actually invade.

  2. You forgot to mention that Iran is in possesaion of Russian S-300 defense systems. These systems END US Air superiority. Also US Navy is 40+ year old bath tubs that are sitting ducks in the gulf and are badly in need of upgrade. Waste abuse fraud and theft of the DOD budget makes upgrade impossible.
    Interesting article tho and I thank you.

  3. "It will be the reaction of American voters that will ultimately determine the extent and duration."
    Can a more ahistorical statement be uttered?

  4. Please let's not forget the fact that only pathetic 5% of U.S soldiers are combat forces. So keep remember that sending 200,000 soldiers far away to Middle East means just about 10,000 land warfare combat frontline soldiers. And even not all of them are not able to be sent to front line duties as lessons of Vietnam War taught us. In short: USA has never been, is not and won't never been land warfare superpower.

  5. The US may well have 4.2m citizens reaching military age, however (1) most of them are obese und do not fit into a uniform w/o seat belt extension, (2) few of them have an IQ of over 90. Just nuff to die

  6. Such accounting type comparisons ignore the reality of modern warfare and the areas in which Iran has placed most effort and reliance. Defensive anti-air missile systems and missiles of all types of their own manufacture. These in overwhelming numbers in fact. The committment of their troops and even of a vast segment of the civilian population who proved against Iraq that they would run fearlessly into Iraqi gas attacks without weapons to face their attackers and died in huge numbers. Not smart maybe but committed.. Despite having none of the support or supply of weapons and high tech targeting info etc by the USA Iraq enjoyed, Iran eventually overwhelmed and panicked Iraqi forces and saddam Hussein had to hurriedly agree to a truce before he lost his palace to advancing Iranians. Think of Iran as like a large and ancient, well dug in Hornets nest. You do not want to go poking it. If he was still alive Saddam would assure you this is the gospel truth and the best advice you can get. Also never forget the scale of havoc they can unleash within 48 hours. The world's oil would be 1/3 spiked indefinitely and "Israel" just a bad memory.