Friday, June 28, 2013

Other Projects I've been Working on ...

This past quarter, as I wound up my time as an undergraduate, I took a class on the use of geospatial-information-systems, giving me a chance to play around with something other than Google Earth for a change. As one would imagine, I turned my efforts toward Iran, producing a handful of maps relating to the interdiction of petrochemicals in the Persian Gulf.

The first map shows the potential launch zone for the Khalij Fars ASBM. Since the Khalij Fars is based on the Fateh-110, it's reasonable to assume that it has a similar minimum range. This means that in order to fire upon ships traveling through the strait, the TELs have to be located within a relatively narrow corridor.

In creating the map, I took the range claim of 300 km at face value, which represents an increase of 50 km over the published range of the Fateh-110. While the official minimum range is unknown, for the sake of this experiment, I added 50 km to the minimum range of the Fateh-110.

The second series of maps illustrates the operational profile of select ASCMs launched from the coast, and a selection of fortified Islands from within the Gulf.

The third and final map shows the operational profile of IRGCN HSPBs. The assumed speed is derived from an average of official specifications from MODLEX, and from official statements.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Disappearing Divisions - The 64th Infantry Division

In the continuing series of “Disappearing Divisions” we turn to the 64th infantry division in West Azerbaijan, in north-west Iran, which is also being put under the knife of the army's “Samen Alaeme” restructuring plan.

Compared to other divisions, relatively little has been written about the reorganization of the 64th division. The 264th division, based in Salmas, became independent in November 2011, and the 364th brigade, based in Mahabad, followed suit in March 2012. While it is not known exactly when the 164th brigade came into existence in Orumiyeh, it was first mentioned in July 2011, which disrupts the pattern initially observed in the 28th and 21st divisions described previously.

Little more is known about the brigades through reporting beyond that they are “...entirely independent in terms of logistics, and personnel...”. Presumably, a divisional HQ remains in the same manner as the 21st and 28th.

The 164th division, previously based in Orumiyeh, is transitioning its garrison away from the city to free up more of the city core for civilian use. Unfortunately, the location of the new base is not known. Google Earth imagery from August 2010 shows divisional assets including engineering and transport units, the former including ten large bucket loaders, two cranes, three graders, and five more earth-movers of indiscernible type.

  Parade imagery has included M-47 tanks, and while they are not visible on overhead imagery, were likely deployed at company strength judging from what might be their garage.

In September 2005, a handful of towed artillery pieces can be seen on the parade grounds, including four large caliber pieces with towing vehicles, four small caliber guns with split tails, and four slightly smaller towed weapons.

Interestingly, and rather in contrast to other divisions – armored or infantry – five bell-type helicopters are consistently deployed at the base, visible on the parade yard in 2005, 2009, and 2010. At least two of them are 206s, while the other three appear to be larger transport types. Possible applications include air assault, or reconnaissance.

Unfortunately, Google Earth does not provide clear imagery of the 264th brigade in Salmas, though a pair of D-30s have been seen from event photography. Likewise, while parade-imagery is lacking for the 364th brigade in Mahabad, overhead imagery shows a battalion of D-30 guns, as well as a battalion (~18 pieces) of smaller towed weapons.

 Works Cited
Rasht IRNA Article on the 364th brigade
Salmas-AG Article on the 264th Brigade
Ostan-AG Article on Relocation of 64th division out of Oruymiyeh
July 2011 reference to 164th brigade

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Iran's Disappearing Divisions - The 21st Infantry Division

In the continuing series of “Disappearing Divisions” we turn to the 21st infantry division in East Azerbaijan, in north-west Iran, which is also being put under the knife of the army's “Samen Alaeme” restructuring plan.

Previously, the division had one brigade each in Marand, Sarab,Maragheh, and Tabriz. In November 2011, the commander of the 21st ID – Brig. Gen. Birang – participated in a ceremony for the independence of the division's second brigade in Maragheh, now called the 221st brigade. By at least May of 2012, the 3rd brigade in Marand was re-designated the 321st brigade Then in February 2013, the same general announced the independence of the 121st commando brigade as the third phase of the restructuring. The location was not specified, but it is presumed to be Tabriz. One can anticipate the fourth brigade in Sarab being converted to the 421st brigade late-2013 or early-2014.

('View image' to see full size)
This loosely follows the pattern set by the restructuring of 28th division described previously. Over 2011-2013, first the second brigade is converted, then the third, then the first. It's worth noting that prior to reorganization, unlike armored divisions, the 21st was composed of four brigades rather than three. It's also noteworthy that the 121st brigade is a commando, rather than infantry, brigade.

Likewise, the stated logic for the restructuring is consistent. Post-9/11, Iranian army commanders observed U.S military action in Afghanistan and Iraq and concluded that the threat they faced was a multi-pronged attack aimed at disrupting force structure. In this context, the objective is to allow combat forces to operate autonomously by shortening command hierarchies and removing unnecessary units.

The country is divided into five regions, each ostensibly capable of carrying out independent combat operations. These are:

Northwest Operational Headquarters 
Commander: Sartip Dovom Heshmatollah Malekian
Location: Urmia

Western Operational HQ 
Commander: Sartip Dovom Manoucher Kazemi
Location: Kermanshah

South-Western Operational HQ
Commander: Sartip Dovom Ali Mehrabani
Location: Ahvaz

North-Eastern Operational HQ 
Commander: Sartip Dovom Mohammed Kazem Tarokh
Location: Mashhad

South-Eastern Operational HQ 
Commander:Sartip Dovom Nader Alidoost
Location: Kerman

Interestingly, all the regional commanders are described as Sartip Dovoms, or Brigadier General 2nd class. Considering that General Birang, of the 21st ID, is a full Brigadier general, putting a lower-ranking officer in what is effectively a corp-level command is rather surprising. The next logical step is to cross-reference this data to determine the original source's accuracy.

Because the commander's have emphasized local autonomy, this implies the expectation of geographic isolation and the inability to coordinate with other regions. This offers a refinement of the 'mobile defense' hypothesis described in previous entries. When referring to mobility as a priority, commanders may only be speaking about the tactical or operational level, rather than the strategic. This is entirely consistent with the idea of a 'layered defense', which sees territory sacrificed for force protection (as opposed to positional/static, or attrition-based defense, which sacrifices forces in order to hold territory; for an analysis of this spectrum, see Gary Walter's “Mobile Defense: Expanding the Doctrinal Continuum”), except that it operates on the regional rather than country level. In fact, the 'regionalization' of command can be seen as a response to one of the difficulties in mobile defense: ensuring coordination between forces; the assumption of a penetrating-type attack is testament to this fear.

One, potentially negative, implication to this bargain is that the army will find it more difficult to achieve a decisive victory. Precisely because they have dispersed their forces in an attempt to prevent their own defeat in a single Schwerpunkt-type event, it's all the more difficult to inflict the same kind of defeat on an enemy. One explanation for this is that since a decisive victory is out of the question, why plan for it. The Yugoslav territorial defense doctrine is the text-book example of such logic. Following the invasion of Czechslovakia, the JNA found itself tasked with the prospect of facing down the Soviet Army. Planning for conventional maneuver would have been futile. Although the IRIA isn't the JNA, and visa-versa, the logic of political, rather than military victory is similar.

Further Reading / Works Cited
Tabriz IRIB Article
Araz News Article
Fars News Article
Marand Daily Article