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Iran Organization, Size, and Equipment
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    As faqih, Khomeini is constitutionally designated supreme commander of the armed forces. He has delegated his powers to the president, who may in turn delegate authority as required. Important decisions regarding defense policies are made by the SDC, which combines senior members of the armed services with senior members of the government.


    In 1979, the year of the shah's departure, the army experienced a 60-percent desertion from its ranks. By 1986 the regular army was estimated to have a strength of 305,000 troops (see table 8, Appendix). In the fervor of the Revolution and in the light of numerous changes affecting conscripts and reservists, the army underwent a structural reorganization. Under the shah, the army had been deployed in 6 divisions and 4 specialized combat regiments supported by more than 500 helicopters and 14 Hovercraft. An 85-percent readiness rate was usually credited to the force, although some outside observers doubted this claim. Following the Revolution the army was renamed the Islamic Iranian Ground Forces (IIGF) and in 1987 was organized as follows: three mechanized divisions, each with three brigades, each of which in turn was composed of three armored and six mechanized battalions; seven infantry divisions; one airborne brigade; one Special Forces division composed of four brigades; one Air Support Command; and some independent armored brigades including infantry and a "coastal force." There was also in reserve the Qods battalion, composed of ex-servicemen.

    After the mid-1970s, military manpower was unevenly deployed. Nearly 80 percent of Iran's ground forces were deployed along the Iraqi border, although official sources maintained that the military was capable of rapid redeployment. Although air force transports were used extensively, redeployment was slow after the start of the war. The Mashhad division headquarters, in the eastern part of the country, has remained important because of Soviet military operations in Afghanistan and resulting Afghan migration into Iran (see Refugees , ch. 2).

    In the past, Iran purchased army equipment from many countries, including the United States, Britain, France, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Italy, and the Soviet Union. By late 1987, Iran had diversified its acquisitions, obtaining arms from a number of suppliers. Among them were the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), China, Brazil, and Israel. The diversity of the weapons purchased from these countries greatly complicated training and supply procedures, but, faced with a war of attrition and a continuous shortage of armaments, Iran was willing to purchase from all available sources (see Foreign Influences in Weapons, Training, and Support Systems , this ch.).

    The IIGF operated almost 1,000 medium tanks in 1986 (see table 9, Appendix). Although a large number were British-made Chieftains and American-made M-60s, an undetermined number of Soviet-made T-54 and T-55s, T-59s, T-62s, and T-72s were also part of the inventory, all captured from the Iraqis or acquired from North Korea and China. There was also a complement of fifty British-made Scorpion light tanks. Several hundred Urutu and Cascavel armored fighting vehicles from Brazil joined American-made M-113s and Soviet-made BTR-50-60s. An undetermined number of Soviet-made Scud surface-to-surface missiles were acquired from a third country, believed to be Libya. And in November 1986, the United States revealed that it had supplied the Iranian military with Hawk surface-to-air missiles and TOW antitank missiles via Israel.

    The army's aviation unit, whose main operational facilities were located at Esfahan, was largely equipped with United States aircraft, although some helicopters were of Italian manufacture. In 1986 army aviation operated some 65 light fixed-wing aircraft, but its strength lay in its estimated 320 combat helicopters, down from 720 in 1980.

    Data as of December 1987

    NOTE: The information regarding Iran on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Iran Organization, Size, and Equipment information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Iran Organization, Size, and Equipment should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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