***Revised and Updated - October 17th 2010 ***
The Island of Abu Musa is located almost exactly halfway between Iran and the UAE near the Western entrance to the Straits of Hormuz. It's position commands an important geostrategic position, commanding a powerful view over shipping lanes. Because of this, it, along with the Tunb islands, have been the subject of border disputes between Iran and the UAE including the 1971 seizure of the three islands by Imperial Iran and the later militarization by the Islamic Republic during the 1990's. (1)
For those interested in the complete history, both Global Security and The American University in Washington DC offer fairly comprehensive reviews, even if the specifics on some of the military aspects are questionable.
American University in Washington DC:
The major modern buildup of forces on Abu Musa came in the 1990's when Iran was purported to have stationed 4 thousand troops on the island, along with SA-6 and HAWK SAMs, 155mm artillery, Korean-war era tanks and HY-2 AShMs. (2)
Since then the presence has apparently fallen, removing most of the new equipment that was brought onto the island, there still remains a substantial military presence.
Perhaps most interesting is the case of the tanks. Their identity is a mystery beyond being "Korean-era" which could include tanks from Iran's stock of M-24 light tanks M-4 tanks or M-36 tank destroyers. Tanks, especially such old ones, are an odd choice on face, however historically Iran has used these type of tanks in the modern era as pillboxes along the border with Iraq and were among the first forces to come into contact with the invading Iraqi army in 1980. This is probably the most likely method of deployment on Abu Musa, especially given that their most likely resting-place is the series of revetments on the south-east of the island.
Artillery is reported to be 155 mm, but satellite imagery points to the 122 mm D-30 gun as characterized by their unique triple-trail design. One battery (six guns) is layed out in a staggered line somewhat centrally located north-east of the airport terminal. Deployment role is unknown, whether intended to be used as a coastal defense gun, as support for any skirmishes on the island itself, or in the direct-fire role.
As Always, Click to Enlarge Images
Anti-ship missiles are almost without a doubt located on the Island, the first rumors of them coming in 1994 and 1995 when HY-2's were purported to be moved to the Island. But now, it's anyone's guess what missiles now are stored on the Island.
SCUD's were also said to have moved to the Island, and given Irans use of BM's as keystone strategy, it's not that unlikely. However, given the size of the island, it would probably be difficult to fire a liquid-fueled missile without anyone knowing about it well in advance. Today, other missiles are definitely a possibility, whether they be SCUDs or smaller TBMs, though no specific evidence can be pointed to for their deployment.
Abu Musa hosts several bunker complexes and entrenched positions, varying from concrete bunkers for AShM's to earthen revetments.
The most notable among them is a relatively recent egg-shaped bunker on the north of the Island (as evidenced by the different colored earth indicating a recent disturbance). The bunker is hedge-hogged with concrete ports (10+) that likely serve for firing AShMs or additional egress points connected to a large central portion.
Another readily identifiable above ground bunker-complex is located on the south-eastern section of the island just behind the road circling the island near the patch of trees. They are arrayed in a straight line facing inward toward the island. There are a total of seven visible bunkers in two sections, five in one line and 250 m south another two. All of these bunkers appear to have a protuberance sticking out of their roofs, probably a vent.
A third site can be found around 530 m further down the road circling the island after the "two"-cluster of bunkers mentioned above can also be found arrayed in a line of four; a slight change in design is possible, but the washed out quality of the image prevents further comment.
A number of other geographic features around the island are possibly bunkers but cannot be 100% confirmed as not being something else. The most likely "something else" in this scenario are bulldozers piling up dirt from some other excavation, and by pushing up berms, create the illusion of underground ramps where none exist. Sites like these can be found alongside the eastern coast.
The south-west of the Island, according to David Isenberg of the CATO institute, holds more underground storage bunkers that hold "HY-2 anti-ship missiles...and SCUD-C's". (New3) A claim that cannot be verified due to the poor quality of the imagery in this area.
Beyond bunkers, there also exist revetments on the south-eastern corner of the island that are of note. With an internal diameter of roughly 7.5 m x 18 m, the are the most likely spots for the 'Korean-war vintage tanks' that are rumored to be deployed on the island.
The primary AD asset on Abu Musa are a large number of static Zu-23-2 AAA (possibly with several 35 mm guns) emplacements dotting the coast. These are typically characterized by a concrete pad relatively close to a road (~50 m).
Most obvious is the abandoned HAWK SAM site located south of the runway and alongside the eastern side of the island.
An abandoned Skyguard site can be found on the southern side of the south-east corner. It now only holds a single AAA emplacement where the radar would normally be positioned.
An SA-6 was reported in the 1990's, but no evidence of it now exists on the island. Possible they served as organic air defense for the brigade-sized element then stationed on the island and was removed when the force was drawn down as appears happened with the HAWK SAM.
(2) "Abu Musa Island Dispute Between Iran and the UAE" American University in Washington DC. http://www1.american.edu/ted/abumusa.htm
(3) "US Military and
pt 5" David Isenberg CATO Institute 12/19/97 http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=8860 Iran
Imagery via Google Earth