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]

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