Sunday, November 14, 2010

Who Reads The Arkenstone?

In a break from the doldrums of research, i thought i'd provide some interesting statistics about the readership of the blog, courtesy of the new Blogger stats panel.

From May 2010 - November 2010

Pageviews by Nationality
United States - 6,112
France - 1,359
United Kingdom - 1,348
Germany - 1,278
Canada - 770
Iran - 501
Spain - 431
Netherlands - 417

Internet Explorer - 47%
Firefox - 32%
Chrome - 9%
Safari - 6%
Opera - 2%|Firefox|Chrome|Safari|Opera

Operating System
Windows - 91%
Mac - 5%
Other Unix - 2%
Linux - <1%

But statistics can only tell half the story, what do you as a reader enjoy about this site, what would you change, what's working, what isn't? In the near future I hope to be significantly revamping the Arkenstone, including additional categories in image analysis, and a completely new collection of information on indigenous weapon systems. So now's your chance to have your input evaluated, what would you like see done in the next year with the Arkenstone? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Image Analysis - Isfahan Military Facilities

Image Analysis - Isfahan Military Facilities

Note: Purposefully omitted is both the Khatami AFB and the Isfahan nuclear facility as they have both been covered is some detail elsewhere.

The city of Isfahan and its surrounding areas play host to a fairly large amount of military facilities, which when combined with it's central location in Iran, makes it an unavoidable strategic hub when considering any future conflict with Iran.

So whats there to see? Luckily, Isfahan has some of the best imagery available of Iran from Google Earth - their latest imagery coming from early-mid 2010 with the oldest imagery dating from mid-late 2009.

***As Always, Click Images to Enlarge***

There are nine major sub-regions that can easily be divided on Google Earth; working roughly from west-t0-east:

1) Far Western Bunkers
2) Ashura and Mohammad Montezari Garrisons
3) Western Bunkers
4) Central Compound
5) IRGC Compound
6) IRGC Engineering Compound
5) 55th Artillery Group
8) Eastern Compound
9) Badr Airbase
10) Shahid Vatanpour Airbase

Far Western Bunkers
This compound can be found north-west of the city of Najafabad about 35 km west of Isfahan-proper. The primary purpose of this facility is storage, as evidenced by the number of hardened shelters and revetted buildings. Ownership is unclear, though it's likely that it belongs to the immediately adjacent IRGC garrison.

Bunkers are of conventional Iranian design.

Revetted Buildings

AAA [Empty]

Ashura and Mohammad Montezari Garrisons
Located just east of the far-western bunkers north of the city of Najafabad, the compounds of these two IRGC garrisons offer a wealth of information through Google Earth.

The exact nature and size of the two garrisons is unknown, however at the very least, the Ashura garrison is an armored battalion.

The most eye-catching feature from this compound is probably the armor laid out in neat rows.

First is the battalion of T-series tanks with only roughly two-thirds of the armor visible as a 100% strength armored battalion would number ~30-34 tanks. These may be either T-54/55's or T-72's as both are used by IRGC forces in and around Isfahan.

To the east of the tanks is a company of BMP IFV's. Interestingly enough, they have at least 11 IFVs per company as compared to the IRIA which uses 9.

Below the BMP's are several unidentified AFVs, though it's extremely likely they're Boragh's given their dimensional similarity and lack of a 30/73 mm gun. Most likely two platoons assuming 11 AFV's per company, same as the BMP.

In the center of the motor pool is a company of unknown AFV's.

Behind them are M113/Lynx APC's organized into probably two platoons, same as the Boraghs.

South-west of the main armor motor pool are a handful of large warehouses that presumably hold the rest of the armored battalion that isn't visible. Another BMP company (with quite a few missing) is visible as well as another similarly arrayed, but unidentified AFV company.

If the armor was the most interesting, the presence of HSPB (high speed patrol boats) are perhaps the most puzzling. Isfahan is a landlocked city - the only major nearby body of water is the Zeyanderood river, and even that's a stretch.

Adjacent to the patrol boats are several bunkers cut into the hillside. It would appear that several are still under construction, but the site has remained in this condition since at least 2002.

Western Bunkers
Another hardened storage site like the 'Far-Western Bunkers', this site differentiates itself by instead of consisting of basic hardened shelters, these are dug into steep mountain sides. It's also relatively recent, with preliminary construction on above ground facilities first seen in 2002, with construction of some bunkers occurring post-2007.

Note the steep walls of the valley.

Central-Left Compound
Exact Ownership of this location is unknown, but it is possible that it belongs to the IRIA 37th armored brigade as it's location is unknown and fits no other compound in the greater Isfahan area.

An odd style of revetments - digging into hillsides- compared to the more commonly seen berms.

Although there is a large motor pool with lots of different vehicles, the image quality is too poor to make discern their identity. And to think the dividing line between new and old imagery is a mere 300 m away! Just north of the main motor pool are what appears tank transporter trailers, or other heavy-duty type trailers.

Central-Right Compound
Again, exact ownership is unknown, but it's possible it's an extension of the IRGC compound to the south-east.

More conventional bunker designs -individual hardened shelters sunk into sloping hillsides.

Also present is what appears to be weapon training ranges. While i'm not positive on this, it looks to be the best explanation.

IRGC Compound
Likely headquarters to the IRGC Saheb al-Zaman Corps that operates in the Isfahan province, this compound is located south of the city and just across the highway from the Shahid Vatanpour airbase.

One central feature of the compound is the amount of armor or heavy vehicles; however, their dimensions match no known armored vehicles. Despite this, they still have somewhat-recognizable features like turrets which characterize some as BTR's or T-series tanks. At this point, no conclusions can be drawn from this imagery.

In the southeast corner of the compound is what initially looked like a motor pool for additional armor, however, the latest round of imagery updates in combination with the historical imagery tool, reveals that these hulks haven't moved for many years - meaning it's probably a scrapyard for garbage equipment.

The 2nd IRGC facility near Isfahan to have fairly substantive number of HSPBs - what could their use be? Perhaps the fact that they're out of water and not under any cover is evidence that they're just being trashed at this specific location rather then being stored for any particular purpose.

West of the HSPB's are two bunker entrances arrayed in a fairly common layout that probably belongs to a complex rather then simple hardened shelters.

On the western side of the compound are several revetments that would otherwise be ordinary enough to not warrant a mention, however these match the revetments found on Persian Gulf perfectly - the single large position flanked on either side by smaller revetments.

Just south of these revetments are possibly the storage position for an unknown towed gun.

IRGC Engineering Compound
Possibly designated the '40th engineering', no other information available.

55th Artillery Group
Located close to the heart of the city, this compound is home to the IRIA's 55th independent artillery group. The latest round of imagery for this area - January 2010 - isn't that helpful as most of the artillery assets that were previously visible are somewhere else

The best imagery comes from 2008:

Starting off in the north-west corner of the compound are two battalions of towed guns with a conventional split-trail design which restricts the list of possible guns to the M-46/HM-41/or D-74 (though probably not the latter due to dimensions)

In between them is another battalion of guns, possibly GHN-45's in traveling configuration.

Just below these three battalions is a battalion of 12 M017/M110 self-propelled guns. Fitting the organization of self-propelled gun previously only confirmed with M109's.

East of this, in the center of the compound are two more battalions of an unknown, though conventionally arrayed, towed gun.

In the north-east of the yard, there are quite a few unidentified objects that are potentially a smaller class of towed gun, such as the M101, or the D-30 in deployed configuration, and the lack of resolution prevents further identification. On the other hand, they aren't deployed in any usually recognizable number (such as 18 per battalion, or 6 per battery) so they might be something else entirely.

Immediately west of the smaller unidentified guns, there is another low-strength battalion (12 guns vs the normal 16) of what i possibly identified as GHN-45's on the western portion of the compound.

Moving into 2010, the only valuable imagery is of a large number of conventionally designed towed guns as well as a much better view of what can be more confidently said are M101 towed guns. There are roughly two battalions of each type.

Eastern Compound
Located in-between both major air bases encompassed in this review, ownership of this compound is unknown. There is nothing unique about the bunkers, they are more similar to individual hardened shelters then a complex.

...however, that's not necessarily true for the bunkers in the north east of the compound.

The HAWK SAM site is extremely typical of Iranian HAWK sites, with three, rather then six launchers.

Note that the two southern-most M192 launchers are covered while on the third, the imagery is so good enough as to be able to differentiate individual missiles. Along with the SAM launchers, also present are several AAA positions which are covered with camouflage netting.

Badr Airbase
Also known as 'Sepah Airbase', Badr airbase is home to extensive helicopter overhaul and repair facilities as well as being a major IRIAA base.

Eastern portion of the apron

...and the western portion. For both halves, visible aviation assets include 30 CH-47C's, 37 AB-205/Bell-Textron 215, 20 AB-206's, and 13 AH-1J's.

Badr Airbase in a report by Fars News in April 2010

Overhaul of an AH-1J Cobra at Badr Airbase.

Shahid Vatanpour Airbase
South of the 'Eastern Compound' and just across the highway from the 'IRGC Compound' is the Shahid Vatanpour (alternately: Shahid Vatan Pour) Airbase.

Visible rotary wing aviation assets include 52 AB-205/Bell-Textron 214's, 47 AB-206's, and 12 AH-1J's.

Also present north of the base are several bunkers dug into the hillside hardened-shelter like.

Google Earth
Fars News