Iran’s Defense

By | April 15, 2020

By the fall of the Shah in 1979, Iran ‘s armed forces were among the most high-tech in the world, but already during the war against Iraq in 1980-88, a radical shift to a lighter, personnel-intensive defense at the medium to low technological level occurred.

Today, Iran has ballistic missiles, which can reach Israel , among other things, and with the potential to lead chemical, biological and radiological warheads, in a few years perhaps also nuclear warheads. The defensive defense forces are based on a large and slightly “asymmetric” depth defense against what the government interprets as a high-tech invasion threat from the United States, Israel and neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

However, the boundary between offensive and defensive forces is fluid. If the country is attacked, Iran has ambitions of being able to shut down the Hormuz Strait and halt oil transport using the asymmetrical light naval forces. These forces have a very large number of small and fast vessels and miniature boats capable of attacking from different directions at the same time, with everything from light, shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons to torpedoes and heavier sea-going missiles, supplemented by land missiles.

An important element is a large capacity for laying mines, and the forces dispose of driverless speedboats with large explosive charges. However, the naval forces and the coastal defense also have as a defensive main mission to fight back a sea-going invasion. Like the land forces, they are based on a “swarm” tactic against heavy and high-tech attackers.

The total force figures for Iran’s armed forces are around 523,000 active personnel, with a reserve of about 350,000 personnel (2018, IISS). In addition, between 40,000 and 60,000 semi-military security forces and border guards come.

Persian Gulf

Iran is strategically located by the oil-rich Persian Gulf. That is why Iran’s navy is very active, especially in the Hormuz Strait.

Revolutionary Guards

The Revolutionary Guard plays a dominant role in all military fields, including for internal security. Garden also seems to have a function as a counterbalance to the Army, Air Force and Navy, and it exerts great political and economic influence. It reports directly to the country’s supreme leader and not to the military leadership. It controls the ballistic missile force. Garden has a workforce of around 125,000 personnel and controls the Basij militia, which, when mobilized, has about 600,000 personnel.

As with all Iranian forces, the garden’s organization is unclear, but it is said to have two armor divisions, eight infantry divisions, three special forces divisions, air force troops and up to 3,000 small “Stay Behind” groups. The tactics are largely based on light armor weapons, helicopter missiles, road and car bombs (Improvised Explosive Devices), used as in Iraq and Afghanistan, and landmines. The level of training is largely limited, and the forces are expected to operate scattered, largely behind the lines of the attackers, much concentrated on ambushes and strife in cities and urban settlements and in protracted war of exhaustion.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is a very powerful part of Iran’s armed forces, not only militarily, but also in the rest of society. Here the Revolutionary Garden marches in 1983. In 2019, the United States put the garden on its list of terrorist organizations.


The army has a staff of 350,000 active personnel, of which 220,000 conscripts. Heavy equipment includes about 1513 tanks (480 T-72, 150 M60, about 75 T-62, 100 Chieftain, 540 T-54, T-55, type 59 and Sapphire-74 and 168 M47 and M48 ), about 80 light tanks of the Scorpion type, 610 armored vehicles and about 640 armored personnel vehicles. In addition, there are 17 light transport aircraft, 217 helicopters (including 50 combat helicopters of the Cobra type ), and light and medium- heavy drones.

Air Force

The Air Force still manages to some extent to operate a number of 1970s American fighter jets and fighter jets delivered from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Iran has probably not been able to maintain any “integrated air defense system”. The command and control apparatus is probably weak against electronic warfare and radar combat missiles. In addition to some old and inefficient ex-Soviet and Chinese ground-to-air systems, the country probably still has a number of older US Improved Hawk air defense batteries in addition to relatively modern Russian Tor-M1 (NATO designation: SA-15 Gauntlet ) and S-300PMU2 ( SA-20 Gargoyle ) systems.

Iran claims to develop its own similar but better missile system and possibly replicates the Tor-M1.

The Air Force has a workforce of 30,000 active personnel. The equipment includes about 184 fighter jets (20 F-5B Freedom Fighter, about 55 F-5 Tiger II, 24 F-7M Airguard, 43 F-14 Tomcat, 36 MiG-29 and up to six Azarakhsh observed), about 119 fighter aircraft (64 F-4 Phantom II, 10 Mirage F1, 39 Su-24, and up to six Saegheh observed), 10 attack aircraft of the type Su-25, about six reconnaissance aircraft, three antiubåtfly of a P-3 Orion, three tankers, 117 transport aircraft, 141 training aircraft (14 of which can be used as fighter aircraft) and about 36 helicopters.

The Navy

The Navy has a workforce of about 18,000 active personnel, including 2,600 Marines. The fleet comprises 21 tactical submarines, 6 corvettes, 61 patrol vessels (in addition a large number of less than 10 tonnes), 33 landings, and 18 logistics and auxiliary vessels. In addition, the Navy has 16 light transport aircraft, and about 30 helicopters.

International operations

In 2018, Iran had a force of 3,000 personnel in Syria.

Iran participated with two naval vessels against piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and participated with one personnel and three observers in the UN operation in Sudan (UNAMID ) in 2018.