Monday, December 10, 2012

Howeizeh APC

*Working Copy*
The Howeizeh(هویزه), also known as the Sheni-Dar(شنی دار), is a light tracked personnel carrier first shown without fanfare in December 2011 during a visit by Generals Pourdastan and Vahidi to a MODAFL conference. The Sheni-Dar was than officially announced in January 2012 during the IRGC's Shohadaye Vahdat wargames in Eastern Iran, where it was shown alongside the wheeled Sarir APC. Then in September 2012, the Howeizeh was officially announced for a second time an an unidentified 'APC prototype and development office', this time under the name Howeizeh.


Development and Doctrine
The show-casing of the Howeizeh has contributed to a growing understanding of the IRGC's armored doctrine over the past year. It was developed as the result of the requirement by the armed forces - presumably the IRGC in particular - to provide operational mobility for mechanized forces. This has been a criticism of Iran's infantry-centric armies ever since they proved unable to exploit any "Schwerpunkts" they created during their offensives against Iraq. Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop describe Valfajr-8 offensive of February 1986:
"The Iraqi 2nd Naval Brigade and the 15th MD were almost completely annihilated, and only one armored brigade remained between Faw and Basrah, trying to stop the Iranian push northwards. The Iraqi's were overwhelmed, and if the Iranians had more tanks and APCs, as well as a more effective supply capability, they could have easily rode to the north and marched into the second largest Iraqi city almost unopposed." (The Iran-Iraq War in the Air 1980-1988, 198)
 During the Shohadaye Vahdat  wargames, an IRGC general described the Howeizeh as the outcome of an internal evaluation of "positional defence" and "mobile defence" strategies, as a response to a Western/NATO-type mechanized assault. (Iran Military Forum) Both of these terms have specific doctrinal implications. In brief, positional defence emphasizes attriting an enemy attack through direct engagement from static/prepared positions. Mobile defence, on the other hand, avoids frontal confrontation between similarly-dense forces, instead using screening forces to shape the creation of a favourable battle-space on which to use counter-attacks to decisively defeat an attacker. Iraq's doctrine post-1982 unquestionably trended towards the static end of the spectrum, while NATO in western Europe transitioned from the former to the latter in the early-1980s, and underwent significant internal debate as to the merits of both.

Additional comments in the Iranian media have made it clear that the Howeizeh has been designed with mobile defence in mind. In other words, this AFV aims to provide the necessary mobility required for Iranian forces to keep the initiative and dictate when and where an engagement will take place. This explains the emphasis on agility and concealment within the descriptive lexicon as both are geared toward gaining manoeuvre superiority over an attacker at the operational level.

Like "mobile defence", "operational mobility" is used in reference to a specific concept. Ogorkiewicz, in Technology of Tanks, defines it as
"...the ability of tank units to move in the zone of operations. This is a matter of tanks moving under their own power, mainly along roads and tracks but often also cross-country." (The Technology of Tanks, 225)
This is a function of both characteristics like power-to-weight ratio, or maximum speed, as well as logistical requirements like fuel range, mechanical reliability, and crew ergonomics. A smaller, lighter vehicle can cross softer ground, cross more brigdes, go down narrower paths, than a larger, heavier one, and therefore has a much larger theoretical area of operations. Likewise, the need for fuel, spare parts, and other mechanical support all tie the AFV to a certain degree of support infrastructure, limiting it's theoretical AoO.

Understanding these abstract factors contributing to mobility is key to understanding the language used to describe the Howeizeh. The ability to navigate cross-country was a center-piece of publicity videos, with shots of the AFVs operating in typical high-desert environment. It's light-weight (فوق سبک ) means it can climb steeper hills, and travel down narrower mountain roads roads than a BMP, or an M113. It's touted-simplicity also gives it a longer range, and while more features (i.e electronic subsystems) might have made it more versatile, they also would have required more repair-hours. Its small-signature () means it is able to travel in areas that might otherwise be denied to it by enemy fire, broadening it's AoO.

At a more general level, the Howeizeh is the essence of the APC concept. It provides organic, cross-country mobility to infantry forces, which otherwise might rely on divisional motorized transport, which in turn would limit the ability concentrate force at a required moment in space-time. In many ways, the Howeizeh (along with the Tala'eeyeh) constitute a conceptual successor to the Boragh program, which also aimed to provide basic infantry mechanization. Unlike an IFV like the BMP, the Howeizeh is not designed to stay in the fight; its infantry squad functions as its armament, which is 'fired' at the enemy by manoeuvre.

Physical Description
Configuration/Overview: The Howeizeh is a conventional, light, tracked APC. The powerpack is mounted at the front-right. The driver and commander* sit front-left, while the rear troop compartment holds room for six dismounts on inward-facing seats. There are two access/egress points: a rear-facing door, and the commander's hatch. The lack of roof hatches is further evidence that this APC has not been designed with fighting so much as delivering in mind. The overall configuration - particularly the superstrucutre - is very similar to the Wiesal 2 UF/BF, and observation/reconnaissance variants.

* It is unclear if there is space for a vehicle-commander as space would be at an extreme minimum behind the driver's high-backed, bucket-seat. This lack would almost certainly have implications for the IRGC's doctrine, again pertaining to the inability to fight from the vehicle, though at this point I am operating under the assumption there is

Dimensions: Note the following comments remain in the provisional phase, and thus may be inaccurate. The Howeizeh is slightly taller than the Boragh (~1.88 m), but slightly shorter than the Boragh mortar-carrier (~2.02 m). If this is an accurate estimate, than this assumed height of ~1.95 m would correspond to length: ~4.6 m and width: ~2.3 m. This compares closest to the Canadian Lynx recon vehicle (L:4.6 W: 2.41 H:2.18), but also in the same range as the Wiesal 2 (L:4.8 W:1.87 H:2.17). This would likely put it in the ~8-tonne range, which is consistent with the maximum sling load of a CH-47(IRIAA), though well above an Mi-17's(IRGCAF) capacity.

Vision Devices: The driver is fitted with a ballistic window rather than the usual periscopes found on AFVs. This decision might have been made to make it easier and more intuitive to drive (greater FOV). Because they don't need to be filled with a gas, or maintain assembly alignment, they're also cheaper than periscopes. The troop compartment is fitted with two side-facing periscopes on either side, while the rear-facing door contains a single, small window. The vehicle commander lacks any vision devices that can be used buttoned-up. This is a further indicator that the vehicle is not meant to be fought from.

Protection: Composition of the Howeizeh's armor is unclear, though it is most likely welded steel and/or aluminium. (If any readers know of a way of telling the two materials apart visually, they are invited to comment below). The road-wheels have the same reinforcing ribs used on the M-60A1 MBT aluminum wheels, which suggests at least some of the components used are of this material.

Weight/dimension requirements make it unlikely that all-around protection exceeds that of small-arms / shell-splinters. The prominent air louvres and driver's window all represent weakened zones in the frontal arc that might indicate the Howeizeh is optimized against indirect fire weapons like shell-splinters. This would be an interesting perspective given the trend away from massed-area to precision bombardment,  but may represent a "lesson learned" from the Iran-Iraq war in which light-infantry forces were decimated by prepared and overlapping fields of fire.

Mobility: The Howeizeh is powered by an unknown engine, likely a diesel in the ~200 hp range. One change between the Sheni-dar shown in January, and the Howeizeh shown in September was in the inclusion of further air louvres, which could indicate a cooling problem.

The forward-mounted final-gearing and sprocket drives a conventional running gear with single-pin, rubber-brushed track links, two track-return rollers, four aluminium, rubber-tired road-wheels, and rear idler. Suspension is torsion bar, with shock absorbers on the number 1 and 2 road-wheels.

While exact specifications cannot be ascertained, the publicity videos show that the Howeizeh is comparable to other light AFVs in terms of tactical mobility, turning-radius, maximum speed, stopping distance.

Armament: The prototypes seen thus far have been entirely unarmed, reflecting the above-mentioned point that the Howeizeh's 'weapon' is actually its infantry squad. The vehicle commander lacks any sort of cupola or pintle mount from which to operate a weapon, and his position to the extreme front-right of the vehicle would make any hypothetical mount cumbersome to use. The lack of roof hatches and side-firing ports also reflect a rejection of the cold-war doctrine that the squad should be able to fight from their vehicle. Despite this, official announcements indicate that the vehicle could be armed with, ambiguously described, rockets.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Iran's Disappearing Divisions

For the past two-plus years, the Iranian Army ground forces have been engaged in the process of reorganizing their forces away from a division-centric, to brigade-centric model. This is hardly a novel concept - Iran follows in the footsteps of both the Spanish, and U.S armies. However, instead of producing medium-weight expeditionary forces (i.e Stryker brigades), this transformation ass been geared toward fighting a defensive war against modern maneuver army.

Until recently the army has maintained the same division-centric model it inherited from the imperial Iranian army, and fought their war with Iraq with. These were comprised of three combat brigades with the usual range of divisional-level support company/battalions. The purpose of the divisional staff was to coordinate combined arms operations between the brigades and support assets.

Now, however, brigades rather than divisions are the basic combat unit capable of carrying out sustained combat operations. On Army Day 2012 General Pourdastan announced that in 2011 (1390) the Army had a total of 19 independent brigades, while 12 more would be created in 2012 (1391). Of the 19 pre-existing brigades, we can identify the 37th (Shiraz) and 38th (Torbat Jam) independent armored brigades (IAB), the 40th (Ardebil), and 41st (NW Iran) independent infantry brigades (IIB), the 71st (Sarpol Zahab) independent mechanized infantry brigade (IMIB), the 11th (Maragh), 22nd (Shahreza), 33rd (Tehran), 44th (Isfahan), and 55th (Isfahan) independent artillery groups (IAG), and the 25th (Pasveh), 35th (Kermanshah), 45th (Dezful), 55th (Shiraz), and 65th (Tehran) commando/airborne brigades (ICB/IAbnB). The identities of four brigades remain unknown; they may include engineering, or air-defense brigades.

The 12 new independent brigades have been formed by shearing them off from existing divisions, which have now been reduced to two brigades in strength, or effectively abolished altogether. Newly independent brigades include the 284th IIB (Lorestan), 228th, 216th IAB (Zanjan), 277th IIB (Quchan), 177th IIB (Torbat Heydariyeh), 288th IAB (Khash), 130th IIB (Bojnourd), 221st IIB, 264th IIB (Urmia), 281st IAB (Kermanshah/Bistoon), and 292nd IAB (Dezful). Convinently, the last two letters of the brigade's numerical designation corresponds to their parent unit, making identification relatively easy. For instance, both the 277th and 177th IIBs were formed from the 77th MID, while the 288th and 292 IABs were, respectively, once part of the 88th and 92nd ADs. Furthermore, these many of these newly independent brigades are relocating away from their historical garrisons inside cities toward new bases outside of the congested urban environment.

At the regional level, these combat units are supported by an increasing number of independent support brigades - artillery groups being the most well-known examples. While these brigades existed before, they are now being relocated away from large, centralized garrisons in places like Isfahan and Tehran towards forward deployment in border regions. At least two have been re-deployed in the eastern cities of Khash and Qaen.

According to General Pourdastan, this reorganization was the product of internal study of past wars, particularly those involving western-style maneuver forces. The conclusion drawn was that if Iran wanted to defeat a modern NATO-type army, such as the one that faced Iraq in 1991 and 2003, their organizational structure (aka C2 hierarchies) would have to be made resilient against concentrated, high-density firepower. In essence, Iran is trying to prevent the U.S from being able to achieve battle-space (aka 'information')-dominance.

That fact that these concepts have been trivialized as buzzwords does not take away from their real world power. By controlling your enemy's vision of the battle-space, you are ensuring that he will always be reacting to the way the battle used to be, not the way it is. The quintessential example of this is from 1991 in which coalition forces were able to simultaneously maintain total situational awareness through tactical communication, while degrading the Iraqi's C2-network. British General Rupert Smith recounts one example where Iraqi tankers had been ordered to attack a breach that had occurred "...24 hours previously and 100 kilometers back.", but because their staff didn't have an accurate picture of the battle the unit in question wandered blindly into prepared (aka situationally-aware) British forces and where destroyed. (The Utility of Force, 51)

To see how this strategy might be negated at a conceptual level, one has only too look to the 2006 Lebanon war in which Hezbollah was able to defeat Israel's military strategy because they controlled the information battleground. By practicing adept denial-and-deception, and 'shoot-and-scoot' operations, Hezbollah was able to deny Israel - including their air-based surveillance platforms - an accurate picture of the battlefield at an operational level. This meant that the IDF, like the Iraqis, had given up the initiative to their enemies, allowing them to control the tempo and flow of the battle.

To this end, Iran's reorganization can be seen as flattening decision making by giving brigade commanders a larger tool-box that can be called upon without relying on divisional-C2 to remain intact. Pourdastan has consistently described the motivation behind such a move as boosting unit's tactical/operational flexibility, making them better equipped to respond self-sufficiently to these kind of "critical situations" imposed by todays rapidly changing battlefield.

Historically, the divisional hierarchy arose as the most efficient way to manage the rapid expansion in the size of national armies following the Napoleanic revolution in military affairs. At this time, the corps-level staff simply couldn't coordinate the number of troops in action as well as the growing density of firepower available to these combat units (independent artillery units being the best example). The division solved this problem by pushing the coordination of combined arms 'down' a level, preventing total organizational paralysis that would have resulted should C2 remained centralized at the corps level.

However, the success of such a system still depends heavily on intact C2-structures, and as national armies have shrunk in size since the high-water point of WWII and the Cold War, the same problem of combat unit flexibility has again reared its head, exacerbated by Western information-dominance strategies, which seeks to exploit this inherent weakness in all hierarchies.

Shifting toward independent brigades pushes 'combined arms coordination' down another level. Thus, in Iran we should expect brigades to now field a more robust level of organic artillery, air-defense, anti-tank, and engineering support. While the ORBAT of Iranian divisions is not well known, several guesses can be made which, if nothing else, will illustrate the principal behind the reorganization. Until recently the brigades belonging to the 30th ID have relied on divisional-level heavy transport to ferry its motorized infantry battalions. Now that the 130th brigade is now independent, we should expect it to be able to provide its own operational transport, allowing it to function where before they could have been rendered impotent by destroying (electronically or kinetically) the C2 links between Bojnourd and Gorgan.



For an excellent description of the implications of information-dominance and control of the battle-space-image, consider reading this piece on network-centric warfare from Australia Airpower.

Friday, September 28, 2012

30th ID

Located in north-eastern Iran, the 30th ID is among the smallest and lightest of the regular army divisions. The divisional headquarters along with the 1st brigade is based in Gorgan, in the Golestan province, while the 2nd brigade is found in Sari in the neighboring Mazandaran province. The infantry brigade in Bojnourd was, until very recently, attached to the 30th ID, but now operates independently. The current commander is Sartip Dovom (aka Brig. Gen. 2nd class) Mansour-Khumri. (Footnote 1)

While it is unconfirmed at this point, there are possible indicators that the division is under pressure to relocate their garrison out of the city in order to relieve urban congestion. (Footnote 2)

Operationally, the brigade falls into the army's eastern theater. Geography, as well as the lack of any high-density weapons like self-propelled artillery, tanks, or APC/IFVs suggests that the 30th ID is a second-tier unit designed to reinforce units like the 77th MID.

The first brigade is located directly in the city-center of Gorgan, adjacent to road 22 which runs from Tehran to Mashhad. Google Earth imagery of the base dates from June 2003 and, over the eastern-most half, from September 2007. Very little ORBAT-related equipment is visible on available imagery.

What is available includes a relatively large array of heavy earth-moving equipment (1) along the same lines as can be seen in other divisional headquarters (examples: Qazvin, Mashhad). Nearby are additional motor pools including one with pickup-truck and Jeep-type vehicles (2) as well as larger 2 ½, and 5-ton vehicles (3). The division depends on these soft-skin vehicles for everything including troop transports, to artillery-tractors. Semi-trailer type trucks, also likely used for material-resupply, are found along the northern portion of the base.
Heavy Motor Transport

 Fortunately, parade photography fills in some gaps. Light tactical vehicles – like the Toyota Land Cruiser – are as weapons platforms, carrying at least DShK machine-guns and 82 mm mortars. In order to imagine how these might be deployed, one might be able to look to the similarly equipped border police. Rifle squads of six or more strong are assigned to pickup-trucks, which are then supported by a handful of machine-gun, recoilless rifle, and MLRS-armed vehicles. It is, quite frankly, impossible to say with any degree of certainty exactly how they are deployed, but it wouldn't be unusual to see mortar or MLRS batteries, as well as recoilless-armed anti-tank platoons at the battalion level. Alternately machine-guns, and maybe even heavier weapons, could easily be found at the company level, as was the case with Soviet infantry companies. At any rate, given the overall lack of mechanization there are likely to be substantial anti-tank units attached at the divisional level.
DShK and Mortar-Equipped Land Cruiser

The brigade is also equipped with M-46 towed guns, which are likely organized at battalion strength.
M-46 Towed Gun and Gun Tractor

One report indicates that the 30th ID has an organic UAV capability, presumably supplementing other divisional level reconnaissance assets.(3) During one parade, a powered paraglider was flown overhead, suggesting another possible reconnaissance tool.

Like all army divisions/brigades observed thusfar, the 30th ID also has an attached 'commando' unit. While I have long puzzled over the exact battlefield role for these troops, one of the more plausible explanations is that they are intended as a reconnaissance force similar in doctrine to the U.S Marine recon battalions.
Commando detachment

The second brigade – based in Sari, along Artesh street – is even smaller. Compared to the battalions in Zabol and Birjand with compounds of roughly 60 acres (ignoring hardened storage), the brigade in Sari is housed in a compound of only 20 acres. To drive this point home, there are only two-four buildings which are at all reminiscent of barracks (length/width ratio) visible on Google Earth, imagery from which dates from July 2010. The only other assets visible on GE include a smattering (less than 10) of heavy transport.

(2) The limiting factor being my Persian-language skills and the inadequacies of Google Translate.
First Source -
Second Source -

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

130th IIB

 Stylistic note: Since I've used a numbering system (i.e (1), (2), (3)) for both footnotes, and for annotating GE Imagery, I'd better codeify a new way to use them. Footnotes are designated by - unsuprisingly - the label "Footnote" inside the parenthesis, while the imagery annotations will not. The annotations will also likely all be grouped in the same location and be fairly self-evident


The newly-formed 130th independent infantry brigade (IIB) is one of the byproducts of the Army's 2011/2012 reorganization. Originally attached to the 30th infantry division (ID), the 130th IIB is based out of the city of Bojnourd in the North Khorasan province; its base located in the north-central part of the city itself. This means the brigade falls into the Army's eastern theater of operations tasked with defending Iran's Afghan/Pakistan border. 

According to General Pourdastan, current commander of the Artesh's ground forces, this reorganization was aimed at increasing the brigades "agility". (Footnote 1) Operationally, we can make several guesses about this brigade's operational role. Lacking any apparent mechanization, this infantry-centric brigade would likely be deployed in maneuver warfare to secure and hold territory in support of vanguard units like the 38th IAB. This operational theory contextualizes Pourdastan's comment on the brigade's improvided flexability. Located in Bojnourd, this brigade would be the best well-suited to be transformed into a rapid reaction force (the 30th ID's other two brigades can be found further west in Gorgan and Sari). Giving them the ability to support their own forces rather than wait on divisional logistics could drastically affect mobilization time.

While details remain unknown, at the most general level this reorganization would entail the pushing of divisional assets downward. Because the brigade is now operating independently, it must be capable of providing all of its own maintenance, logistical, and other support capability below the theater-level. Pourdastan obliquely confirms this when he talks about the addition and subtraction of units. On one level, we are likely to see an increase in the amount of firepower directly available to the brigade. Some possibilities might include the addition of Zu-23-2 batteries, towed gun batteries, and anti-tank companies. Logistically, the brigade would have to duplicate their battlefield supply chain in addition to their peace-time facilities for training, maintenance, and so forth. This might manifest itself in battalion sized signal and material support battalions where companies might have been found before. It must be emphasized that any descriptor of unit size (Bn, Co, etc) is largely speculative on my part, but should illustrate the situation nonetheless.

As of July 2009, very little can be observed with satellite imagery that would help fill out an ORBAT (especially since it dates since before the reorganization). The base itself is rather small, which may suggest there is additional off-site facilities. Indeed, there is a military facility about 8 km north-west of the city, but this cannot be tied to the 130th IIB, and may very well be an IRGC facility. At any rate, the base inside the city can be tentatively identified as such since the main entry-control-point (ECP) (1) can be seen in images accompanying news footage of the base dedication along with the adjacent building. (2)

The few visible assets include a battalion of towed guns with three batteries of six, five, and six guns respectively; they are likely D-30s in travel-configuration M-101s. (3) The only other thing of note in the motor pool are the soft-skinned trucks of the 5-ton and lighter types. (4) Assuming there is no depot elsewhere, this lack of even basic mechanization drives home just how light many of Iran's infantry divisions are.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

16th AD Update

The third* brigade of the 16th armored division in Western Iran, based out of Hamedan, was previously obscurred by low-quality imagery. A recent Google Earth update, with imagery from June 2011, now shows the base in relatively high-resolution along the 48 road leading northwest out of Hamedan ( 34.852852°, 48.446303°).

* Though due to the recent reorganization which saw the formation of the 216th IAB it must be remembered that it would now be more accurate to refer to it as the division's second brigade. For the purposes of continuity, the former designation will be kept to avoid confusion.

Unlike some nations which have a marked distinction between 'tank' and 'mechanized' brigades, Iran has – for the most-part – uniformly equipped their armored divisions with brigades of equal strength. The 16th AD is an example of this, rather than concentrating their tank battalions in full-strength brigades (i.e with multiple tank battalions) the army has favored an even distribution among mechanized brigades (i.e muliple infantry battalions with one tank battalion).

This has resulted in a scenario where Iran's armored divisions are almost all uniformly better classified as mechanized infantry divisions. On one hand, this likely reflects the fundamental reality that Iran can't field Soviet-style tank divisions. On the the other, it also likely reflects the relative utility that Iran places on tanks. Rather than seeking the decisive concentration of force that heavy divisions represent, which are fundamentally offensive in nature, Iran has chosen to relegate tanks to the support role in which they serve as theater-level anti-armor assets.

Speculation aside, the third brigade in Hamedan doesn't buck this trend. Beyond the usual range of barracks (1) and including single unit housing with their private courtyards (2,3), the motor-pool offers an excellent view of the brigade's vehicles. These include a wide range of soft-skinned vehicles, including 5-ton, 1 ¼-ton, and ¼ ton trucks, often with trailers or other towed equipment. (4) A handful of M113s can be found scattered around the compound (4, 8), suggesting a likely role as command, or other special-use vehicle rather than in a homogenous infantry battalion. The usual accompaniment of a 12+ gun M109 battalion (5) is present, though no M548s are. More than 40 FV4201 tanks (6) are visible – likely approximating a full-strength battalion. It's worth noting that this comes close to Iran's original pre-war battalion strength, with three companies of 15 tanks each. This compares to a Soviet tank company of 10 tanks. The brigade also retains some organic combat engineering capability, as evidenced by the AVLB (7) visible next to the seven M113s (8). A handful of unidentified armored vehicles can be seen under garages (9) in the far east of the motor-pool. These are likely shielding the brigades BMP-2 IFVs or FV101 light tanks, which have been observed on parade.
M-40 RR and 107 mm MLRS - Fire Support
FV101 - Armored Recon
M109 SPG (Fire Support) and BMP-2 IFV (Mech. Inf.)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

38th Independent Armored Brigade

The 38th independent armored brigade is based out of the city of Torbat Jam, east of Mashhad and close to the Afghan border. The current commander is Sartip Dovom (Brig. Gen. 2nd Class) Hamidreza Asadi.

According to it's former commander, the brigade functions as a quick-reaction force tasked with responding to “infiltration” of enemy forces. In this manner, the 38th IAB would likely serve as a screening force in order to buy time for the mobilization of the 77th MID in Mashhad. This is supported by the geography of Iran's eastern border, which earily resembles the Fulda Gap in Cold-War Germany. Any attacking force wishing to take the key city of Mashhad, and continue westward toward Tehran must pass through two parallel valleys divided by a series of road-less east-west ridge-lines, with their garrison cities of Torbat Heydariyeh, and Torbat Jam (the latter being the more direct route). It may be somewhat poetic that 'Torbat' means "burial place".

The base, located in the eastern portion of the city includes a munitions depot (1) with a mix of hardened shelters and open-air revetments. Nearby are a handful of handgun and rifle firing ranges (2). The base also includes a generous amount of mocked-up fighting positions (3, 4), presumably for training purposes. These fields include foxholes, trenches, mortar pits, and tank ramps. The most interesting feature of these training yards is, what appears to be, an underground garage for an armored fighting vehicle, of the sort that can be seen in Iranian wargames. More than just a ditch, the garage also includes side-trenches, likely rudimentary living or storage facilities for the crew.

On the southern edge of the base is what appears to be a gun battery (5) with raised concrete pads, ammunition pits, and fire-control centers. Unfortunately, the guns on the pads cannot be identified as either field, or anti-aircraft artillery.

Another interesting feature is a drive-through garage in a walled-off compound (6) (thus limiting the apparent value of a drive-through garage)The Brigade's motor-pool (7) includes the usual array of soft-skin vehicles used to motorize Iran's forces. Very little information is available about the available armored vehicles – the backbone of the brigade's fighting strength. On the southern edge of the motor-pool are nine wheeled-AFVs of an unkown type. Approximately 6.75 m long, and 2.5-2.75 m in width, they are ostensibly too small to be BTR-60s (length: 7.56 m, width: 2.82 m). On the other hand, almost every AFV across Iran that I can identify as a BTR is almost always under 7.56 m, which is making me think that I need to revisit my dimensions on file rather than search for a new AFV. This is backed by the fact that the BTR-60s I've examined outside of Iran almost always measure in at less than 7.56 m as well. It may well also be that the Google Earth measuring tool just isn't that accurate. At any rate, much of the features of the vehicles in question at Torbat Jam also share features with the BTR-60 including sloped sides, pointed-front, and length/width ratio.

East of these vehicles is a garage being constructed of the type typically used as shelters for AFVs. True to form, a handful of M113 APCs can be seen (9). These likely belong to a mechanized infantry battalion, either in conjunction with the BTR-60 Co mentioned above, or as part of their own mechanized battalion. Lacking a clear picture of the numbers of AFVs available prevents us from determining the organization further.

Additional garages can be found around the motor-pool, which likely hide away the rest of the brigades armor, including any self-propelled artillery, and tanks – each of which are likely deployed at battalion strength (understrength or otherwise). An unidentified vehicle (10) can be seen peeking out from under the east-facing awnings.

The base's main gate is located in the north-eastern corner (11)

Friday, March 2, 2012

81st Armored Division

 Edit (08/23/14) - The following information is outdated and is in process of being updated.
 I am trying out a slightly different format for this post. Instead of attempting to describe everything in the text and being forced to use clunky directional adjectives (ex: "200 m south-west of the western-most garage), I am now directly annotating the screenshots from Google-Earth which will hopefully allow a much more precise analysis of imagery.


The 81st armored division is based in Iran's Kermanshah province on their border with Iraq. Naturally they were among the first forces to come into contact with the invading Iraqi army in 1980. At the outbreak of the war, their three brigades in Kermanshah, Sarpol-e Zahab and Eslamabad Gharb were outfitted with Chieftain MBTs and M113 APCs. (1) Today the situation is less clear; some evidence suggests that one of these brigades has been moved to a base nearer to Kermanshah in Bistoon. (2)

There are, however, two unaccounted-for armored brigades in Eslamabad Gharb, and in Sarab Ghale Shahin. While they most likely belong to the IRGC's 4th ID(3), it is extremely unusual that an infantry division would be so heavily mechanized. One distinguishing feature unique to these two bases compared to their Artesh equivalents is that they all appear to be undergoing some form of construction during the mid-2000s, typically centered around garages. Another possibility (however unlikely), is that the Artesh's armored divisions are much stronger than previously imagined and what we're seeing is merely the 81st AD.

All three brigades are co-located on the east-west Road 48 that leads to the Iraqi border.
("open up photo viewer --> right click --> view image" to view full size image)

The divisional HQ is located on northern side of the Road 48 leading east out of the city. The compound can be identified as belonging to the 81st division because of the markings on a small hill facing the highway which reads "Artesh".
(Google Earth)

On the far-eastern side of the motor-pool is a large battalion - 38 - of BMP IFVs (#9 on the map). Although the size of this formation more closely mirrors a BTR battalion (which we've seen on parade in Kermanshah), the dimensions and appearance are more similar to a BMP. Even though they all appear to be BMPs, there are differences between the IFVs in the western-most column and the rest of the vehicles. Though the following cannot be confirmed, this may be a difference between the visually similar BMP-1 and BMP-2.
North of the motor-pool are a wide array of firing ranges and fighting positions. In between the motor-pool and the firing ranges are a handful of concrete ramps dug into the earth with tracks leading to and from them. It is unclear what the purpose of such a feature is but it may be to practice quick movement to and from firing positions; a tactic we know to involve underground ramps thanks to imagery from exercises. They can be found in armored brigades across the province which makes it a fairly distinctive feature.

Although Bistoon is described as the divisional HQ, the configuration and relative sizes of each compound points to the lion's share of 81st division's assets being based out of Kermanshah as there are several distinct administrative and support sections which are absent at Bistoon. One explanation is that Kermanshah is the former divisional headquarters (which is supported by the historical record) and that the facilities at Bistoon are more recent and as of yet underdeveloped.
(Google Earth)

One of these areas in question is marked #12 on the map. It contains a number of "T" shaped buildings which are common at military compounds across the country and are usually associated with garrison facilities. It also includes a number of long, narrow barracks-like buildings, motor-pools with tractor-trailers and parade yards. Combined with the fact that the compound sits outside the entry-control point for the main base, this evidence may indicate that it functions in some sort of separate capacity to the 2nd brigade. This is purse supposition however.

An army aviation facility is also located in Kermanshah. 

Sarpol-e Zahab
Smaller than either the garrisons in Bistoon or Kermanshah, the compound at Sarpol-e Zahab is rather atypical. Rather then having a rigid organization, buildings here are often small and clustered in disorganized patterns. There are three main types of buildings, a) large, flat-roofed structures; at least a few may be garages or wharehouses, b) multi-winged, flat-roofed buildings; may be barracks, and c) brick/mud buildings with domed roofs similar to buildings at the 1st brigade HQs for the 88th AD in Zahedan. Entering the compound, there are four main clusters of buildings that the roads lead to, two on either side of the main road.
(Google Earth)

Works Cited:
(3) While the IRGC has since been reorganized, doing away with the numbered system of brigades and divisions, the imagery dates from before this shift in force structure.  Compiled from various sources during the Open Source Intelligence Project.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

16th Armored Division

 Revised and Updated - August 23, 2014


16th Division HQ
116th Brigade
216th Brigade
316th Brigade
Appendix - Commander IMINT AND Organization Charts

AAA: Anti-Aircraft Artillery
ACV: Armored Command Vehicle
APC: Armored Personnel Carrier
ARV: Armored Recovery Vehicle
AVLB: Armored Vehicle-Launched Bridge
BG: Brigadier General
BG2: Brigadier General, 2nd Class
Col.: Colonel
Col2: Colonel, 2nd Class
MANPADS: Man-Portable Air-Defense System
MANPATS: Man-Portable Anti-Tank System
PKO: Peace Keeping Operations
SPA: Self-Propelled Artillery
SPAAG: Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun
UN: United Nations

The Iranian Army Ground Forces' 16th Armored Division is based in north-western Iran, and is associated with both the Army's North-West, and Western Regional Operations Headquarters. As of 07/2014, the Division is commanded by BG2 Abdulreza Shahri.

Since 2011, in accordance with the Army's 'Samen Alaeme' reorganization plan, the division has been restructured into:
- 16th Division Operations HQ (Qazvin)
- 116th Independent Mechanized Infantry Brigade (Qazvin & Gilan)
- 216th Independent Armored Brigade (Zanjan)
- 316th Independent Armored Brigade (Hamedan)

16th Division Operations Headquarters:
The former divisional-HQ has been converted into an operations HQ, the exact function of which remains unknown. The working assumption is that the HQ staff provides coordinating support for brigades during maneuvers, while devolving its previous responsibility for combat-support, and combat-service support to the brigades.

However, this assumption cannot be verified. Between 2011 and 2013, there is only marginal activity in the former divisional garrison in Qazvin that would indicate a significant transfer of equipment.

In at least one instance the body is referred to as a 'tactical headquarters'. Although the distinction between the tactical and operational levels of war is significant in the West, it is unclear if it is equally significant in Iran.

The uncertainty is compounded because the brigades formerly subordinate to the division are associated with different regional operations HQs. The 116th and 216th brigades are associated with the north-west region, while the 316th AB is part of the western region. There is similar uncertainty concerning the relative roles of the divisional HQ versus the regional HQ, both ostensibly functioning at the same 'level'.

As of July 2014, the HQ is commanded by BG2 Abdulreza Shahri.

Because the HQ is co-located with the 116th Brigade, a review of relevant satellite imagery is found in the following entry.

116th 'Shahid Safavi' Independent Mechanized Infantry Brigade:

The 116th IMIB is based in Qazvin, where it shares a garrison with the division's operations HQ. Part of the brigade is permanently stationed at the Army's garrison in Manjil, which is in the Gilan province.
Google Earth offers imagery of the Qazvin location from 04/2003, 06/10/2011, 06/18/2011, 10/2011 (partial coverage), and 06/2013. Imagery is ostensibly available from 07/2012, but vanishes when viewed up close.

 Reconnaissance for the 116th IMIB includes an armored-cavalry section equipped with FV101 Scorpion light-tanks. Traditionally deployed at battalion strength within the divisional structure, they are deployed within brigades at an unknown level. At least four (one plt) are visible during BG Heidari's visit in 04/2014, while up to eight (two plts) are possibly visible in GE's 10/2009 and 06/18/2011 imagery.

Heavy armor for the 116th IMIB is provided by a battalion of FV4201 Chieftain tanks, which are stored under the cover of two long garages. Imagery from Heidari's visit shows the battalion at close to full-strength with around 40 tanks. This compares to wartime battalion strength of 45 tanks, with companies of 15. The battalion also includes two ARVs, and two AVLBs, both FV4201 variants, as well as three M113 APCs, and three M577 ACVs.

The most notable aspect of this brigade is the 185th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, which is trained to participate in UN peace-keeping operations. Created in 1993, the Bn has sent officers on a handful of UN missions for observation and training, including Eritrea, North & South Sudan, and Ethiopia. However, they have yet to to actively deploy as a unit for a UN mission. As of April 2014, the battalion is commanded by Col2 Mohammed-Reza Kazemi.
Col2. Kazemi (Saff #370)
The battalion is equipped with M113 APCs and M577 command vehicles, with an estimated strength of around 33 vehicles. A maximum of 25 are shown in GE's 06/2013 imagery, six of which are painted UN-white, suggesting that, at most, only a company has received the high-visibility paint scheme.
Wikimapia annotations identify the battalion's barracks-cluster. The cluster includes an H-shaped kitchen, at least two ancillary buildings, and four barracks, which is consistent with three rifle companies, plus a headquarters and weapons companies. The battalion commander noted that the unit is composed of seven companies, leaving one unaccounted for.

There is a second cluster with the same number of buildings, suggesting the existence of a second infantry battalion. There are at least three more recognizable clusters with between 3-5 T-shaped barracks. At least one more infantry battalion associated with this brigade is deployed in Manjil and is described below.

In addition, there are two tall, and 10 low & long buildings similar to military dormitories elsewhere. Some of these are undoubtedly associated with divisional personnel.

The base also contains a large number of residence-style housing with private courtyards.

Brigade combat-support includes a 12-gun battalion of M109 self-propelled artillery, which also comes equipped with the M548 tracked ammunition resupply vehicle.

Up to 34 towed guns, most likely the 130 mm M-46, are visible across a range of imagery. No distinct organization of these guns is apparent, but the number of observed is equivalent to about two battalions with batteries of six guns each. Newly imported Kraz-5233 and/or 6322 trucks are employed as gun-tractors.

Since towed artillery has only been observed at the Qazvin garrison, they were likely associated with the (former-) division rather than the co-located brigade. As of 2013, these guns remained in Qazvin, indicating that transfer of division fire-support was not part of the independent brigade restructuring.
Brigade air-defense includes a battalion of 12 ZSU-57-2 and/or ZSU-23-4 SPAAGs, which are consistently visible across the range of GE imagery. Both types have been documented in hand-held imagery, though only the ZSU-57-2 has been specifically linked to the brigade itself.

Air-defense is also provided by upwards of 27 towed Zu-23-2s, which are visible in GE's 06/18/2011 imagery. A similar number is found at the Zanjan garrison, suggesting these may be held at battery strength in infantry battalions, and/or battalion strength at the brigade level.

Engineering support for the brigade includes an engineering battalion deployed at the Manjil garrison, which is described below. Additional equipment is present at Qazvin, which is organized at an unknown strength and likely includes divisional assets. This includes three excavators, three-seven graders, four bulldozers, two-four bucket-loaders, and around 10 heavy trucks.

Between 2011 and 2013, the quantity of construction equipment drops precipitously, possibly indicating that the restructuring involves the transfer of non-combat support equipment to the brigade level. This is circumstantially supported by the construction of a motor-pool for engineering equipment at the Zanjan garrison during the same time. However, given the irregularity with which equipment observed in the open, this cannot be confirmed.

Similarly, between 2011 and 2013, two of the motor-pools containing tractor-trailers and other equipment likely associated with the division's transport and logistics sections were vacated, suggesting that this equipment has been pushed down to the newly-independent brigades.

These two events would be consistent with the stated aims of the reorganization, which is to increase the “stand-alone” capability of combat-brigades, by providing them with organic mobilization and maneuver capability.

The brigade maintains a separate detachment stationed at the Army's garrison in Manjil, which they share with the Navy's commando school. This includes the engineering battalion noted above, which was deployed for mine-clearance operations along the country's western border until 2013/2014. It also includes at least one “rapid-reaction” infantry battalion equipped with M113 APCs, 29 of which are visible in GE's 08/06/2013 imagery.

As of April 2014, the detachment is commanded by Col. Javad Rostam-Zadeh.

216th 'Shahid Mokhabari' Independent Armored Brigade:
The 216th Brigade is currently based in Zanjan, but is in the midst of a transfer to a new location some 20 km to the west of the city, near the village of Esfajin. As of July 2014, the brigade is commanded by Col./BG2 Ali Mazheri.

GE offers imagery of the garrison from 06/2005, 10/2010, 10/2011, 06/2012, and 07/2013.

Located in the city, the brigade's base has been an impediment to the city's urban development, leading to its inclusion in on-going nation-wide construction of new garrisons. However, like in many other cities, the Zanjan transfer has been delayed by bureaucratic disputes between the Army and the civilian government. As of Summer 2014, the actual transfer has not yet begun.

Brigade reconnaissance includes an unknown number of FV101s.

As an armored rather than mechanized brigade, the 216th is composed of two, rather than one tank battalion. The two battalions can be consistently identified across a range of imagery thanks to their distinct motor-pools. However, no more than 50+ FV4201s are visible in any given imagery. Each battalion is shown equipped with an AVLB, two ARVs, and three M113/M577 ACVs.

Another difference between mechanized and armored brigades is the type of AFVs employed by infantry battalions. Verified with parade imagery, more than 30 BMP-1s are visible in GE's 06/2012 imagery. They are typically parked in two distinct clusters adjacent to their respective garages. It may be that these are two distinct infantry units, or simply a function of available parking space.

A number of BTR-60s have been seen on parade, hinting at the possibility of another mechanized unit, but have not been observed in any overhead imagery.

Battalion weapon companies and support elements (e.g. MEDEVAC) are motorized in part by ATVs and bikes. This includes MANPADS, MANPATS, and 60 mm mortars.

At the brigade level, additional armament support is provided by M40 recoilless-rifles, TOW & AT-4/5 ATGMs, 81 & 120 mm mortars, and DShK machine-guns. These are organized at an unknown level, and are primarily motorized by organic tactical vehicles like Toyota Land-Cruisers and Jeeps.

HQ units, both at the battalion and brigade level, rely heavily on unarmored Jeeps in addition to the M577 ACVs.

Artillery support is provided by a self-propelled M109 battalion.

Brigade air-defense includes at least 27 towed Zu-23-2s, which is the same strength as the Zu-23-2s observed in Qazvin and are likely organized in a similar manner. ZPU-4s have been observed on parade and are organized at an unknown rate. On parade, Zu-23-2s are shown towed by a number of vehicles including ¾-ton tactical vehicles, and by larger Kraz and Mercedes Benz trucks, suggesting the possibility of different deployment levels alluded to in the Qazvin entry. No SPAAGs have been documented.

Between 2011 and 2013, a new motor-pool for engineering equipment is constructed, and populated with construction equipment possibly transferred from the division during the post-2011 restructuring. Equipment includes an excavator, and at least one bucket loader.

Another motor-pool contains a range of vehicles, including M577 ACVs, and additional light and heavy trucks including those in the MB 911 size-range and those fitted with containerized equipment-shelters. These are likely associated with brigade headquarters and non-combat support elements such as signal units (which are organized at a unknown rate at brigade level).

Next to this is a second motor-pool primarily populated between 2011 and 2013. Although the warehouse and other buildings pre-date the reorganization, new vehicles which may have originated in the former-division include tractors, tractor-trailers, and a range of medium and heavy trucks. Other than this, the brigade would have little in the way of organic transport and support in comparison to the observable equipment at the division HQ in Qazvin.

316th 'Shahid Qehrman' Independent Armored Brigade:
The 316th Brigade s based in Hamedan, and as of 05/2014, it is commanded by BG2 Hamza Beidari.

Unlike the other two brigades associated with the 16th Division HQ, the 316th is part of the Army's western military region, as opposed to the northwest region. According to comments made by the commander, the role of the 316th brigade in the region is to provide operational depth by functioning as a combat reserve.

Google Earth offers imagery of the Hamedan garrison from 06/2011, and 05/2014. Imagery is ostensibly available from 11/2012, but vanishes when viewed close-up.

The division's 252nd armored-cavalry reconnaissance battalion has traditionally been stationed in Hamedan, though it is unknown whether this deployment survived the war, let alone the 2011 reorganization.3 At least some FV101s continue to be observed on parade in Hamedan, indicating that some of this capability has been maintained.

Heavy armor for the 316th Brigade includes two battalions equipped with Chieftain tanks, which have been historically designated the 224th and 227th Bns. In GE's 06/2011 imagery, one of these battalions is clearly visible with a strength of 34-35 FV4201s, plus two ARVs, one-two AVLBs, and six M113/M577 ACVs.

The second battalion is parked under the cover of two long garages similar to those used in Qazvin. However, these garages are shared with an unknown number of light AFVs, including BTR-60s, making it difficult to accurately quantify its strength.

Similarly, the brigade's infantry strength cannot be assessed with available resources. BTR-60s and BMP-2s have been documented with hand-held imagery on parade and display, but are hidden under cover in satellite imagery. 25 suspected-M113s can be seen in GE's 05/2014 imagery, but are absent from any parade imagery. Due to image quality and dimension estimates, it is possible that some are actually ZSU-23-4 SPAAGs.

Brigade artillery includes an M109 battalion, which may have more than the usual number of 12 guns.

Parade imagery shows the 316th Brigade using tactical vehicles – including motorcycles, ATVs, and Jeeps – for the same purposes described in the entry for the 216th Brigade.

Air defense is provided in part by what is most likely a battalion of ZSU-23-4 SPAAGs, which are frequently observed on parade, but cannot be confidently identified on satellite imagery.


[coming soon]

Appendix - Commander IMINT AND Organization Charts:
[coming soon]