Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Iranian Military Claims and the Probable Reality

Spook 86 over at In from the Cold has an excellent post today on the Iranian military-industrial complex, and its reputed "accomplishments" or lack thereof. It's worth reading just to be reminded that Mahmoud "Mad Jad " Ahmadinejad and his crew, despite their frequent vaporings -- aren't ten feet tall.
True, Iran is trying very hard to equip itself with servicable military forces, but the Persians most cope with an insufficient general technical base, insufficient funds and foreign exchange, not to mention the difficulties caused by sanctions. It should also be noted that every engineer employed on Mad Jad's nuclear boondoggles is one less working on aircraft, naval armaments or tanks -- not to mention the civilian economy.
No, the Persians aren't immortals, let alone THE Immortals. But they aren't harmless either, and we shouldn't be complacent about Iran's efforts to improve its military readiness.

9 comments:

louielouie said...

of the many things i dislike about what has transpired in what passes for immediate history, it is that excuses for countries have achieved pre-eminent nation status.
iran is a third world country at best, and stands there and dictates to the world to jump.
this should never have happened.
i am not advocating a policy of ugly american. just a big box of bitchslap.
sudan, rwanda, nigeria, and many others i can't spell have no right to dictate terms.
countries derive their soveriegnty from the people and the leaders have a responsibility to protect said people and allow said people to improve their lives as they see fit.
but back to persia...........
in every description i have seen of military hardware for M/E countries it always amazes me of what they possess. and if you ask why the answer imo is simple....to protect them from their neighbors..........nada. the reason for the military hardware is to protect the despots FROM THEIR OWN PEOPLE!!!!!!
as for what perisa produces, it can only be oil and pistachio nuts. i bet perisan rugs are made in china. and speaking of china, i did not know the mig-21 is actually called fishbed. that is amazing.
my old boss used to say that iran was going to collapse from within. just like all the talking heads today. he was saying it back in 1990.........
wonder how that's coming along???

El Jefe Maximo said...

Spengler, writing in the Asia Times (link in sidebar), says that the Persians are in worse demographic trouble than even the Europeans.

The only thing they have going for them is the oil...and the fields are possibly approaching maxed out.

Often times, buying quantities of first rate equipment, beyond purchases for prestige reasons, or for keeping up with the Joneses' turns out to be purchases of spare parts to keep a few examples operating.

Around the turn of the 20th century, a whole slew of countries in Asia and Latin America that really couldn't afford it went ga-ga buying battleships and cruisers from the French, the UK, and the US. Didn't wind up helping anybody but the manufacturers and the seller countries, who got to keep production lines turning over. Not much different now, is it ?

I suspect the Chinese and Russians are quite prepared to clear the shelves and make hard currency and political points trafficing in 2nd rate stuff. I don't blame them. Still, the stuff is there, and has to be taken into account.

As for a big batch of "bitchslap" -- as you put it -- not possible in a TV age, except occasionally.

Sovereignty of the people eh ? Yeah, I'll go with that, usually. Countries derive their sovereignty from the people...so long as they can keep it.

louielouie said...

not possible in a TV age, except occasionally.

are you saying that tv will ultimately stop the stop-n-go clerk?

from the people...so long as they can keep it.

just like EJM I stated in one of the first, and best, essays LL read. it's a jungle out there in spite of all the political niceities(sp), going on to point out an example in the balkans, an example of the cherokee in tenn. & georgia, and finally the jooos holding onto their parcel of real estate.

El Jefe Maximo said...

I rather suspect the rent-a-mobs, or General Hassan Hassani, or the moral equivalent thereof, will put paid to Mr. Stop and Go Clerk Mad Jad.

You can add the Romans, the Austro-Hungarians and others to your list of what happens when you get complacent or stupid about the sovereignty thing, or just outmuscled like the Cherokee.

Anonymous said...

It's quite funny that you guys are making fun of Iran's military capability, when the U.S. military is continually complaining about Iran sending arms to insurgents in Iraq and the great threat these arms pose to U.S. and coalition forces. I'm specifically referring to the U.S. claim that Iranian manufactured Explosively Formed Penetraters (EFP's)are so powerful that they can destroy U.S. tanks and cause quite a great deal of death and injury to U.S. troops, and are relatively cheap to manufacture. If this cheap weapon can destroy advanced U.S. tanks, what does that say about other Iranian weaponry that they have put time and money investing in?

El Jefe Maximo said...

You're preaching to the choir there Anon. I don't say Iranian arms are not a problem, far from it. They apparently make a keen mortar too.

Again, they're not ten feet all though. All I was doing was pointing out that the Iranian military industrial complex has limits: that there are very real economic and industrial bottlenecks involved, and that the system has to be under some strain given ALL the projects they are pursuing right now. They are now providing, funding or producing (1) small-arms to factions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention missile and small-arms deliveries to Lebanon; (2) an extensive AFV reconditioning and, allegedly, production, program for both the army and IRGC; (3) production of missiles apparently under license from NK; (4) reconditioning programs for the air forces of older aircraft (F-5, F-14, MiG 21, plus odds and sods) and helicopters; (5) small boat programs for both the Navy and the IRGC, and apparently reconditioning some of their bigger ships. Finally, they (6) apparently are going ahead with their bomb program; and (7) trying to run a civilian economomy.

My point is that the Iranians are running flat out. I doubt all of their programs are as efficient as they want us to believe. There are almost certainly serious economic, industrial and personnel bottlenecks there to be taken advantage of. We should do so.

Certainly they are causing us problems with the munitions you mention. But it rains on the enemy too.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that you are using words like "allegedly" and "apparently" in your most recent response, as if you yourself either do not have concrete evidence based on fact, not assumption about Iran's military capability (which I suspect is the case), or you are just guessing as to what you think Iran's capabilities are. So if you are not in a position to back up your claims which facts, you hardly have any right to belittle Iran's military. Since you referenced a link from the Asia Times, I suggest you read the article "How Hezbollah defeated Israel", written by Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry, where they examine how this Iranian backed, Iranian trained, and Iranian funded group, using Iranian made weapons, defeated Israel, which relies heavily on American manufactured weapons as part of its military capabilites. If a small militia group could defeat a modern, American equipped army, I would refrain from questioning the strength of Iran's military.

louielouie said...

to anon @ 2:26:
i like making fun of the iranians.
as a people and a military.
and your example is the best.
any fool knows the tanks weakest part is it's underbelly.
bury a change in the ground wait for a tank to go over it and you get dead soldiers.
however, from your/this example it is not how tanks fight.
why do you think the bozos are using this tactic.
you want to step out in front amd face a 120 mm smooth bore.
the T- series tanks that the so-called country of iran has, have no accuracy after 1.5 miles. the m1a2 is pinpoint out to 3 miles.
you do the math.
and spare me the military analogy of hezzys & hamass killing joooos. blowing yourself up in a pizzeria or coffee shop is not a military tactic. it is murder. except to the likes of your ilk.
and the reason hamass had the showing against the israelis this past summer is becaus olmert doesn't have any balls. his left wing self loathing wife saw to that.
just curious.
are you al sharpton?
just curious.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Wow, where to begin.

To begin with, I am in no way "belitt...[ling] Iran's military." My original post was more directed at the Iranian military-industrial complex -- the productive infrastructure behind the military, the capabilities of which I am indeed somewhat dubious. I have said in other places that Iran is a much tougher, riskier military proposition as an enemy of the United States than, say Iraq, and I stick by that view. BUT. . .in the context of a full-scale confrontation with a great power, they still come off second best. The last Shah wanted to make Iran a great power, and he really tried. He laid the foundations of a modern Iranian military, and industrial economy, including an automotive industry. But Iran is not there yet, as a power, and it's an open question whether it has the economic horses to ever get there.

The Iranian Ground Forces (Army and IGRC, at least), are worthy of some respect. Concise World Armies 2006 (Rikhaye, with English, Morati and Smith; Orbat.com, General Data LLC 2006), says that the Army is ". . .heavily exercised, on the level of the entire army, perhaps more than any other army in the world. Its performance, 1980-88 should not be used for compairson to its capabilities now." (Id. at 364).

Certainly, the Iranian Army and IGRC should have the officer and NCO cadres -- from their interventions in Afghanistan, their activities in post-Saddam Iraq, and their operations in Lebanon (Hezbollah might as well be a foreign contingent of IGRC). The senior cadres will of course have Iran-Iraq war experience. In terms of personnel, Iran should not have a problem.

In particular, their 23rd Special Forces Division (4 brigades, one mountain trained, according to Rikhye), should be reckoned as good, as should the 45th Commando Brigade. They have an “Airmobile Strategic Reserve” of two divisions (Rikhye) which is probably worth attention. Additionally, the IGRC does have some elite units. Far from belittling the Iranian military, I think they have a reasonably solid force (far better than Saddam had). I’m skeptical, though of the weight behind it.

As to infantry weapons, in addition to the explosive devices you mentioned earlier, they are probably reasonably self-sufficient in small-arms. They make five varieties of 60 mm, 81 mm, and 120 mm infantry mortars with the ammunition (see Jane's Infantry Weapons 2000-2001, or Global Security.org). They make pistols (their military pistols are two variants of copies of the Swiss SIG-Sauer P-226, 9mm) and a whole line of light weapons. They make a good copy of the German MG3 7.62 mm machine gun, which has been in production in one place or another since WW II. This weapon is produced at the Mosalsalsasi Factory, set up by the Imperial Iranian government and Germany, The MG3 remains in production. The same factory makes Heckler and Koch G3 rifles (7.62 mm also) and submachine guns, and a Czech-derivitive carbine. In addition to the light weapons discussed, the Iranians use the AK-47, a few examples of AK-74, the Dragunov sniper rifle, and other Russian/Chinese weapons -- which must greatly complicate their ammunition production/storage/transport problems.
Moving on to Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV's). First, numbers. Rikhaye gives them 1500 MBT's (400 T--72S. 100 or so Al-Zulfiqar, 100 or so Chieftain, 600 T-55). I think Rikhaye lumped together the T-55’s, and the slightly later T-62 which are very similar, particularly considering the degree to which the Iranians have reconditioned them. IIIS in The Military Balance in 2000-2001 a few years back gave them fewer, but threw in the PRC Norinco T-59. IIIS identifies the Chieftains as Mark 3’s and 5.
As for Infantry Fighting Vehicles, Rikhaye says 1,600 BMP-2’s, 600 M-113, which is an increase over my last IISS book from 2001-2 when the Iranians were just getting their own production of BMP-2 rolling.

More specifically, as to the vehicles: align="justify">Chieftain is British and the Mk 3/Mk 5's in Iranian possession date from the mid-late 1970's. Probably they have upgrades (talk on the Net says the "Stillbrew" passive armour system that was fitted to Royal Army Chieftains) but this is an old system.
The T-72S is a Russian tank, developed originally, says Jane’s Armour and Artillery, because it was less expensive and complicated than their T-64. The Iranians have the export version (introduced originally in 1987), which comes with explosive reactive armour blocks. The Iranians are assembling these in kits, obtained from the Russians – the kits appear to include the Russian T-72M1 Upgrade package. This tank has a Russian 125mm smoothbore gun, which can be bore-sighted, or operated with a computerized fire control system. It can supposedly fire a Russian-made laser-guided projectile, in addition to armour-piercing and high explosive rounds.

It is unclear whether the ERA fitted to this tank is Russian, or is the same ERA the Iranians boast about developing for their T-72Z (see below). I suspect it’s Russian designed, reverse engineered or made under license.

It’s not clear if the Iranians have imported the French diesel engine that’s available for T-72’s (the French use pretty much the same engine in their own Leclerc).

The assembly, like most Iranian tank assembly, goes on at the “Shahid Kolah Dooz Industrial Complex” in Tehran, (Km. 17 Karaj Old Rd., Tehran) (hereafter “SKD”) part of the “Defense Industries Organization.” The Iranians have 400 presently, Rikhye says this is “to increase” to 1,000. But these are kits – imported from Russia. These are not home production of the Iranian military industrial complex.

Not to be confused with the T-72S is the T-72Z – which is an upgrade of the Iranian stocks of the T-55 and T-62, and the PRC’s NORINCO T-59. This modification, like the T-72 assembly, goes on at SKD. They’ve replaced the guns, given them Slovenian fire control systems, and an imported diesel engine similar to early production Russian T-72’s. A lot of imported content in this tank.

Then there’s the Iranian’s supposedly “home produced” tank, the Zulifqar (Marks 1, 2 and 3), (hereafter the “Z-qar”) developed by the “Construction Crusade” which is part of the IRGC. (One among many characteristics the IRGC shares with the SS is engagement in its own economic and production activities). The Z-qar is a product of our friends at SKD. (If we ever do have to throw-down on Iran, SKD needs to be left a smoking hole in the ground – preferably accomplished during a shift-change).
Global Security.org says it’s “believed to be pieced together or developed from major components of the Russian T-72 and American M-48 and M-60.” Jane's notes that the hull and turret are of welded steel construction, and don’t look like the T-72. Personally, I think it bears certain similarities in approach to the Pakistani MBT 2000 “Al Khalid” program, which Pakistan is pursuing in cooperation with China. That is to say – the use of parts of older vehicles, with some new equipment – like in the T-72Z, with extensive foreign help and advice. Jane's Armour and Artillery (19th Edition) says “Iran may well have the capability to assemble an MBT, but it must be considered very doubtful if every single component used in the Zuilfiqar is produced in Iran. Some key subsystems must still be imported.” Global Security.org thinks the engine is different from the T-72.

I could go on (haven't discussed their rockets and guns yet, guns mostly Russian, PRC, US, plus a 122 SP gun called Thunder 1; a 155 SP piece called the "Thunder 2" nobody seems to know much about, and Chinese/Korean knock-off rockets), but you should get my point. The Iranians do not have a fully developed arms industry. It is, to a large degree, still dependent on access to older models of equipment, and to materials purchased or otherwise obtained abroad. But Mahmoud “Mad Jad” Ahmadinejad (whom I do belittle, a great deal) says that his “army is self-sufficient” and that Iran makes its own tanks, APC’s and fighters. Follow the link in my original post, and read Spook 86’s notes on Iranian aircraft, and you will see how ludicrous Mad Jad’s claim is. The “Saeqeh” the Iranians boast about is a re-engineered US F-5 – essentially the same thing the Iranians do with their tanks.

This is a respectable military effort. But Iran is not a great power, and is punching far above its real weight. If it comes to punches – that pitcher will soon be catching. This is a country with 40 percent of its people living below the poverty line, which carries on most of its export trade by sea – (exports are equal to a quarter of its GDP). They are trying to increase their conventional military readiness, pursue a nuclear program AND cope with 16 percent inflation (All figures in CIA World Factbook). If the Iranians genuinely WANT ruin. . .if they want to be Iraq, then they can keep on the road they’re on.

Finally, I did find your discussion of the Israeli-Hezbollah war most interesting. What did that remotely have to do with my post ? True, Hezbollah is essentially a Foreign Corps of the Iranian military. But it is a gross misconception of what happened to portray that conflict as some kind of triumph for the Iranian military system. Don't misunderstand me: you will in no place find me contending that Israel defeated Hezbollah. Quite the contrary -- Hezbollah cleaned Israel's clock -- becauase Israel made the mistake of fighting a limited, political war, decided by television media, and run by politicians. But the outcome, at all times, was in Israel's hands. Israel moblized some of its reserves, but it refrained from using them in any numbers.

To win in Lebanon, Israel would have had to have launched a full-dress invasion, on the order of "Operation Peace for Galilee" -- the 1982 invasion of Lebanon: turning loose its infantry, and allowing unrestricted use of airpower and artillery. But Israel did not establish the political conditions for that, Hezbollah was not seen enough as being in the wrong, and the Olmert government refrained, unwisely in my view, from unleashing the IDF. I don't agree, incidentally, with LL's characterization of Olmert -- but he's just not a war leader. The Israelis tried "graduated" uses of force. This was an error. They were going to get the bad press of collateral damage and casualties anyway. That's the nature of television. They might as well have gone all out. But they didn't. Of course the Israelis lost -- because they allowed Hezbollah to set up the war as a violent political/media confrontation, and not an violent industrial confrontation where they could employ their greater weight.

I would never, ever be in favor of being the first to overtly use military force in a confrontation with Iran. A preemptive strike simply will not work politically. But if the Iranians want to play their covert war and dirty tricks games in Iraq – we can play too. Murders and sabotage and Explosively Formed Penetrators can go both ways on that border, along with an organized program to inflate the Iranian economy by counterfeiting the Rial and flooding the place with Dollars. There are ethnic and religious minorities a-plenty to stir up. We can also help stir up the black market and fund gangsters by smuggling all kinds of things that will drive the puritanical mullahs bonkers (Booze anyone ?) If they want to play dirty, we can play in spades.

I hope it doesn’t come to that, and that the Iranians negotiate: stop funding the rebels in Iraq, and deal on their nuclear program. I rather suspect they can’t: that the Islamic So-Called Republic can’t survive the absence of confrontation with the great Satan, let alone trade and diplomatic relations.