The Iranian army has active forces of some 345,000 personnel, although a large percentage of this total are 18-month conscripts who generally receive limited training and have marginal military effectiveness. It also has an army reserve of some 350,000 personnel, although these reserves receive negligible training and Iran lacks the equipment, supplies and leadership cadres to make effective use of such resources without months of reorganisation and training.
Despite the impressive number of personnel, Iran's armed forces are not equipped with the latest technology and their performance in another major conflict is difficult to predict. The scale of Iran's rearmament programme - launched after its effective defeat in the 1980-1988 war with Iraq when in the final phase of the conflict it lost 40 to 60 per cent of its armour and artillery - has often been exaggerated. Furthermore, much of the equipment that survived this war is becoming obsolete.
The army is organised into three army-level headquarters and 10 regular divisions, with independent groups including an airborne brigade, special forces and coastal defences. There is at least one logistics brigade. The 23rd Commando (Special Forces) Division, formed in 1993-1994, is said to have 5,000 trained personnel, all of whom are believed to be regulars, marking an unusual move to full professionalism in an elite unit.
The regular armoured divisions are sub-divided into three brigades. The acquisition of new Chinese, Polish and Ukrainian main battle tanks has allowed for this expansion of the armoured forces. There are two brigades within the airborne forces and four special forces brigades within the division. The airborne and special forces are trained at a facility in Shiraz. Field artillery is divided into five regiment-sized groups, with surface-to-surface rockets and missiles under the command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
During the 1990s there was a notable differentiation in mission between the country's primary security institutions, the IRGC and the regular army. Despite severe economic problems, Iran will continue to maintain the two land force components. As economic conditions allow, the regular army will become more technologically based and more mobile, with an ability to sit well behind screen positions, rapidly reinforcing threatened areas where necessary.
The IRGC will focus on less traditional defence duties, particularly those that involve unusual missions or capabilities. These duties range from stopping smuggling and controlling Iran's missile forces, to preparing to close the Straits of Hormuz. In contrast, the army focuses its efforts on more traditional threats. To that end, the regular army will probably attempt to increase the size of the army aviation force, with an increased emphasis on attack and transport helicopters, both of which it is seeking to manufacture domestically.
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© 2006 Jane's Information Group
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