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)