Sunday, October 27, 2013

33rd Artillery Group

The Army's 33rd Artillery Group is based south-west of Tehran in a range of hills that host a number of other military units, including the Army's 23rd Commando Division to the south/south-east, and a sprawling industrial complex to the north-east associated with the Sepah Aerospace Force's missile development program. The artillery group itself shares its garrison with the NEZAJA's 99th Air Defense Group. The garrison is divided roughly in half by a large parade ground, with the 99th Group occupying the western portion, and the 33rd the eastern portion.

Thanks to it proximity to the capital, Google Earth offers a range of imagery from 10/2003, 05/2010, 07/2010, 05/2011, 06/2011, 09/2011, 06/2012, 10/2012, 05/2013, much of high quality. Furthermore, Wikimapia includes a host of user annotations, detailing the identity of certain buildings. Although it is risky to trust entirely in the credibility of these annotations, they are invaluable in many cases.

Secondary features noted on Wikimapia include: a fire-station (1), a bakery and adjacent tailor/barber (2), a dining-area/movie-theater (3), two clinics (4), communications building (5), intelligence department (6), general-staff offices (7), political-ideology department (8), guest-residences (9), water treatment plant (10), and offices for military police (11).

These annotations also provide clues as to the group's force structure. It confirms that the multi-stored T-shaped buildings are unit-barracks, including the 388th [Artillery] Battalion (12), 325th Air Defense Battalion (13), a command and headquarters battery (14). Another three barracks (15) aren't labeled, likely corresponding to an additional two artillery battalions, and – possibly – a training battalion. Note the distinct construction style employed in these barracks; multi-story (4-5 stories) battalion housing rather than shorter (1-2 stories) company housing employed elsewhere.

This nominal organization is supported by the NEZAJA's ever-so thoughtful decision to park their equipment in uncovered, well-organized motor-pools. In fact, this group provides an excellent case study in small-unit organization. Three battalions of guns are visible. Two of these (16) are equipped with the 130mm M-46 / Type-59 towed-gun, organized into three batteries around six guns each, though sometimes this number varies up or down. The third battalion (17) is equipped with the 155 mm GHN-45 gun, which can be identified by its characteristic appearance when locked in travel configuration; like the D-30, the GHN-45's barrel is reversed and locked backwards over its trails when it is towed, making it appear square on overhead imagery. Although this battalion also has three batteries, the average strength of each battery is four-five, rather than six, guns.

From time to time, guns are removed from their respective batteries are can be found in the large, unpaved parade yard bisecting the compound, likely for purposes of routine training / weapon-familiarization. The 05/2011 imagery in notable in that it shows a handful of guns obscured by camouflage netting (18)

The image quality is high enough to allow for a high-confidence assessment of each battalion's support equipment as well. Gun tractors are uniformly Kraz-6322 6x6 trucks, while battery support vehicles include the smaller Kraz-5233 4x4. At the battalion level, truck-variety expands and uniform identification is impossible, though they surely include, or are in a comparable series to, the Mercedes Benz L 911/1924 range, which have historically served as the platform for carrying command/communication-shelters, bakeries and workshop containers, or as prime-movers for trailers. A number of these trailers are visible, including POL tanks, and generators and/or field-kitchens. At least some of them are the more modern cab-over-engine variants. These same vehicle-types of vehicles are also found at the group-level.

There is no readily visible equipment that would belong to the air defense battalion, though this isn't surprising considering that they would be restricted to towed or truck-mounted Zu-23-2s, and MANPADs. However, the motor-pool belonging to the command and headquarters battery (19) is marked on Wikimapia, showing a handful (<5) of cab-over-engine and cab-after-engine medium trucks. Also present are a number of smaller in the ¼ - ¾ ton range. At least one bucket loader and one digger are visible over the range of available imagery.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

61st 'Muharram' Artillery Group

The Sepah's 61st 'Muharram' Artillery Group is based near the north-eastern city of Torbat Heydariyeh in the Razavi Khorasan province, and is commanded by Sarhang (Colonel) Bani-Hassan. Its garrison can be found just east of the Mashhad-Torbat Heydariyeh expressway, butted up against the southern face of the adjacent mountain range.

Col. Bani-Hassan; note artillery branch service insignia (Taban Torbat)

Google Earth offers imagery of the area from 12/2003, 09/2011, 03/2012, and 11/2012. Bing offers a slightly higher quality of the same 03/2012 imagery.

The internal layout and characteristic features of this base are consistent with the limited number of other Sepah base's detailed thus-far (the 21st and 60th armored brigades). This includes the group headquarters (1), which can be identified by their placement near both the parade yard, and the main-entry / round about. The actual building style is nearly identical to that used by the 21st IAB in Neyshabur.

The battalion clusters are similarly organized. Three clusters are readily apparent (2), each with two barracks of the same type observed in Neyshabur. Although there isn't the same degree of uniformity in secondary buildings, two of the clusters can each be associated with six identical warehouse-type buildings (3). The northern-most cluster saw a seventh warehouse constructed between 09/2011 and 03/2012. These three clusters likely correspond to the group's combat units. One more characteristically barracks-type building (4) can be found near the entrance to the garrison, close to a large warehouse and logistics equipment (tractors and storage containers) (5). This may correspond to the group's combat service support.

The large building south-west of the headquarters, which can be identified by it's intricate/atypical roof structure, likely corresponds to the prayer-building/lecture-hall, which itself is likely associated with the garrison's ideological/political department (6).

Secondary facilities outside of the main garrison include two firing ranges, whose refurbishment/construction started sometime before 09/2011. Next to these two ranges is another open area with a number of unknown white objects (tents perhaps?), whose purpose is equally unknown. Dotting the nearby fields are a number of revetments that are traditionally associated with artillery positions. One main revetment holds the gun, while one or two revetted 'lobes' at the base protect ammunition and/or the gun-crew.

Between 03/2012 and 11/2012, construction on eight buildings (7) of an unknown purpose began to the northwest of the main garrison compound. A road (8) leads north of the garrison into the foothills of the mountains to a security perimeter that encloses the groups modest number of hardened-shelters (six) used for munition storage.

Like other Sepah facilities the author has observed, the 61st Artillery Group continues has continued with that pesky tendency to conceal their combat equipment under cover, making it more difficult to discern their force structure. However, media descriptions of the group's recent October 2013 exercises help shed some light in this regard.

 Specifically, the describe the composition of the 323rd artillery battalion as consisting of thee batteries of guns, and two batteries of rocket artillery. The rocket-battery strength was further specified at four BM-21 variants each. At least two types have been seen, a 40-round launcher mounted on a L-series Mercedez Benz chassis, or a 30-round launcher mounted on an unknown chassis. The strength of the gun batteries is unknown, but they were shown using D-74/Type-60 (122 mm) towed guns. EDIT - The guns pictured are actually the Type 59-1, which mounts the 130 mm barrel from the Type 59 on the Type 60 chassis, which can easily lead to confusion between the two the key recognitions points to the Type 60. To tell the two apart, note the ammunition style.

Tube Artillery on Exercise (IRNA / Taban Torbat)
The choice to organize rocket batteries alongside tube batteries is an interesting operational choice since it indicates that the traditional doctrinal employment of rocket artillery – massed volleys that deliver overwhelming levels of fire in a small time span – has been de-emphasized.
Rocket Artillery on Exercise (IRNA / Taban Torbat)
 While one might expect to find some amount of larger caliber battlefield rockets (ex: Nazeat, Zelzal) in the hands of artillery groups, it's worth remembering that these assets are held by the Sepah's Aeropsace Force rather than Sepah Ground Force's artillery groups.

Interview with group-commander Colonel Bani-Hassan
Date: October 3, 2013

Interview with deputy-group-commander Colonel Torabi
Date: October 8, 2013

Description of early-October exercises:

Photos from early-October exercises

Sunday, October 6, 2013

60th 'Ammar Yasir' Armored Brigade

Colonel Ali Koohi (Qaboos Nameh)
The Sepah's 60th 'Ammar Yasir' armored brigade is based in the north-eastern city of Gonbad-e Kavus in the Golestan province, and is commanded by Sarhang (Colonel) Ali Koohi. The brigade's garrison is a miniscule 10 hectares, which – for comparison – is similar in size to a garrison one kilometer north, which belongs to a small detatchment from the Army's 30th Infantry Division. Despite this, it is relatively well mechanized for a force its size.

Google Earth offers imagery from August 2010, July 2011 (poor-quality), January 2012, March 2012 and May 2013. Bing Maps supplements this with imagery from July 2011 (high quality).
The core of the brigade's fighting strength consists of a battalion of T-54/55 tanks, which includes both the 'clean' Type-69, and upgraded T-72Z/Safir-74 types. Around 40 of these are visible on GE's 08/2010 imagery. (1) In 01/2012, three of them can be clearly seen in the parade yard loaded on to tank-transporters. (2)
T-72Z/Safir-74 (IRNA) and Type-69 (Arteshi Forum)

Supporting these tanks are a handful of other light AFVs. This includes the BMP-1 IFV; no more than six of which are visible on GE at any given time, though the fact that these are seen extending from a garage suggest there may be more under cover. (3)
BMP-1 (Arteshi Forum and IRNA)

 Though the Boragh mortar carrier has been seen on parade, it cannot be confidently identified on the overhead imagery. One candidate are three BMP-sized AFVs adjacent to the garage, which appear to lack the distinctive circular turret of the BMP-1. (4) That being said, these differences are so miniscule that it's impossible to tell for sure; the turret is often the first recognition feature to disappear in overhead imagery. Another candidate are two more BMP-sized AFVs visible in 08/2013 with a unique hull-deck profile. An alternative explanation for these two is that the profile is caused by covered Zu-23-2 guns on a pair of Boragh air-defense vehicles. (5)
In addition to this, at least three M113 APCs are consistently visible, which are likely used as command vehicles. (6) A fourth AFV, while bearing an uncanny similarity to the M113, appears to be far larger. (7) It may be a turret-less tank hull.

The most interesting AFV used by this brigade is, by far, is the EE-9 Cascavel III. While Iran is reported to have imported 130 from Libya in 1980, the fact that Libya operated the Cascavel II variant*, which can be identified by its lack of commander's cupola, suggests this is one of the many captured from Iraq. At least one can be seen on GE's 03/2012 imagery. 

* - Very little photographic evidence of Libyan EE-9s exist. Thus, it is possible that Libya procured Cascavel IIIs in addition to the Cascavel IIs they are known to have imported.

EE-9 Cascavel III (IRNA) Note:For some reason, Blogger feels compelled to flip this image. My apologies.
Other than this, there is a notable lack of visible artillery (whether towed or self-propelled) in either overhead or parade imagery. There is also a lack of soft-skin vehicles, though these very well may be under cover. Unlike other Sepah Ground Force garrisons, there is little to no dedicated cover for the AFVs, raising the question of where they go when they're not visible. Similarly, there is little on-base infrastructure like that found in Neyshabur – buildings like wharehouses and workshops.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

21st 'Imam Reza' Armored Brigade

The Sepah's 21st Armored Brigade – nicknamed the 'Imam Reza Brigade' – is based in the northeastern city of Neyshabur in the Razavi Khorasan province. It is currently commanded by Brig. Gen. 2nd Class Mohsen Qajaryan.

Gen. Qajaryan (
Google Earth offers imagery of the base from February 2004, October 2009, June 2011, February 2013 (partial coverage only), and July 2013. Bing supplements this with October 2010 imagery.

Compared to the relatively cramped army garrisons, the 21st AB garrison is located on approximately 400 hectares next to the city's power-plant. A seperate housing complex along the eastern edge of the city may be affiliated with the brigade, but this possibility is unconfirmed.

The existence of separate housing might help explain the shortage of on-base billeting, which includes facilities for at least two battalions. (1) Each battalion has three barracks (one per company), an office-building/HQ, and another ancillary building clustered together; both clusters face a parade yard, another key recognition feature for troop billeting. Further barracks may be found around a second parade yard to the north. (2) These buildings have the flat-roofs typical of barracks, but lack of distinct cluster pattern necessary for a more confident assessment.

To add to this, one media report listed five of the brigade's battalions. Two of them were helpfully named after their function – the artillery and commando battalions – while the remaining three's names didn't give any clue as to their precise function – the Nazeat, Noor, and Fateh battalions.

Other facilities within the garrison include three administrative office buildings located near the above-mentioned battalion clusters and parade-yard. (3) These can be identified by their proximity to the front of the base, the fact that they present an open face to the road, and that they have adjacent parking areas, and well-manicured grounds. Interestingly, they appear similar in construction to one of the primary office buildings found in the Army's new Zahedan garrison.

To the north-east of this 'block' is a suspected prayer-room/auditoreum, whose manicured garden suggests ceremonial use, though the fact it's next to the obstacle course may suggest it's a gym. (4) Another possible canidate for the garrison's gym also has a manicured garden, but also has some sort of court painted on the ground next to it. (5) Unlike many military garrisons, there is no soccer field present.

In between these two blocks is a fenced-in area with 14 metal/gable-roofed buildings. (6) This style of construction, along with the adjacent shipping containers, road-use patterns, and concrete ramps suggest these are warehouses. Note the secondary perimeter with two more - possibly climate controlled - warehouses.

To the far east is another metal/gable-roofed building. The varying (small) number and type of armored and heavy wheeled vehicles suggest it is the brigade's maintenance workshops. (7)

A key difference between Sepah and Artesh garrisons is the former's consistent use of covered garages for equipment storage, particularly when it comes to armored vehicles. One prominent visual feature of the base are its 18 11-bay garages, which obscure the nature and number of the brigade's armor. (8) Theoretically this offers enough space for up to 198 armored vehicles, though it's doubtful every bay is continually occupied.

Despite these challenges, some of the brigade's force-structure can be pieced together. For instance, media reporting has shows the use of the Boragh APC in the Sepah's traditional two-tone brown-and- sand paint scheme. Parade imagery from September 2013 has also T-72 tanks, which can be confirmed via the 10/2009 and 06/2011 imagery, which show a handful of T-series tanks out from under cover. M113 and Boragh APCs are also occasionally seen, whether peeking out from under a garage, or loitering about in the worshop yard. (9) In the same 2013 parade described above, Iranian media also reported (but did not photograph) on the "Raad" tank" and the "Rakhsh" tank. The former is likely a reference to the Raad-2 self-propelled howitzer, which is know to be operated by Sepah armored units such as the 41st and 31st divisions. The Rakhsh tank, while perhaps a reference to the four-wheeled Rakhsh APC, may also be a reference to the T-72 equipped with slat armor often seen on parade in Tehran, but never observed in an operational capacity (neither of these, it should be noted, are 'tanks')

Boragh performing disaster-relief and T-72 on Parade (INN/Attarnet)

Beyond these 18 garages, much of the brigade's other motor vehicles have disappeared under cover since 2004. Near the front of the garrison is a motor-pool for the heavy-equipment transports, including the flat-bed trailers used for moving armor, which can be identified thanks to the shadows cast by their loading ramps. (10) As per parade photography, these are pulled by the 6x6 Titan tractors favored by Sepah units for operational mobility.

The brigade's lighter wheeled vehicles are most visible in the 02/2004 imagery. (11) This number includes at least 15 Jeeps, which are for carrying support weapons like the 106 mm recoilless rifle, TOW ATGM and 107 mm rockets. Upwards of fourty land-cruiser pickups, or ¾ ton tactical vehicles. These can function as weapon platforms as well, carrying Zu-23-1/2 guns, or small banks of 122 mm rockets. These lightweight, wheeled vehicles also function as general purpose and command vehicles. A smaller number of larger trucks are visible – likely Mercedes Benz 911 or 1924 types – are visible here and in the transport motor pool previously described above.

Another distinct compound that has since been obscured with overhead cover is the combat engineering battalion, which has the usual range of bright-yellow earth moving equipment. This compound also includes the most interesting piece of equipment in the garrison – the Serat AVLB. (12) The Serat is an IRGC project based off the T-72 hull that was first displayed in Neyshabur by the 21st AB in 2009. Unlike the Army's Chieftain AVLB, this design operates by sliding its bridge forward rather than unfolding it like a pair of scissors. The logic behind this mechanism is that it presents a lower profile target to the enemy while it is being deployed. While this may seem like a waste of T-72, it must be remembered that the IRGC-GF doesn't have any armored-bridging capability of their own; it's not like they they can deploy any of the remaining Chieftain AVLBs because a) the administrative/chain-of-command seperation between them and the army, and b) the geographical seperation between them and the Artesh units that do operate the AVLBs in Zanjan, Qazvin, and Hamedan. This is just one of the negative effects of operating a wide variety of vehicle types, and of having a parallel ground-force structure betwen the Sepah and Artesh. Wisdom or lack thereof aside, the Serat first appears on overhead imagery in 10/2009, 10/2010, 06/2011, but is absent by 02/2013.

Serat AVLB (DIO Export Catalogue)

The emergence of this prototype at the garrison sheds light on raison d'etre for the fairly complex automotive testing track adjacent to the garrison. (13) Built sometime around 2004, the track includes a fording pond, inclines, trenches (speaking of bridging!), a figure-8, zig-zags, S-curves, sharp turn(s), a straight-away and a handful of other obstacles.

[title] Khorasan News. 07/06/13.

The Best of the 21st Brigade's Sporting Events Identified. Mehr News. 02/15/13. Archived at:

The Serat bridgelayer tank, another achievement of Sepah engineers, was unveiled on the third day of Sacred Defense Week in Neyshabur. Via Military of Iran Blog. 10/04/2009. Note: Repost of now-defunct IRNA article.

Military Forces Parade in Neyshabur. Attar News. 09/22/13.

 [Boragh image]