Saturday, December 28, 2013

The 58th 'Zulfiqar' Commando Division

Division Overview
The 58th 'Zulfiqar' Commando Division is based in the Semnan province, east of Tehran. Like other divisions, it is transitioning to the NEZAJA's new force-structure of independent combat brigades subordinate to regional operations headquarters. (1)

Two of the division's newly-independent brigades can be identified: the 158th in Shahrud, and the 258th 45 km north-east of Shahrud. One can assume that a third brigade exists, though no reference to it in open-source literature has been found. The function of the remaining divisional-HQ under the new organization is unclear, but – as per the pattern established in other divisions – it is reasonable to believe it persists, at least as a transitory body.

As of April 2013, the division's commander is Brigadier General 2nd-Class Mehboob Qurbani and the deputy commander is BG 2nd-Class Reza Yusef-Zadeh (2) (3)

158th Brigade
The 158th 'Shahid Abbasali Keshavarzian' Independent Commando Brigade (ICB) was converted in February 2013.(4) It is commanded by Colonel Mehdi Mehmar-Bashi. (5) Google Earth offers imagery of the brigade's garrison from 11/2003, 06/2005, 03/2012, 12/2012, and 02/2013. Bing supplents it with imagery from 04/2012.

Wikimapia-annotations suggest that the four+ story buildings on the western side of the parade-yard are barracks [a], while the column of H-shaped buildings to the east are unit headquarters/offices [b]. The annotations are consistent with other open-source reporting, which mentions both the 743rd and 183rd infantry battalions (6) (7). The available billeting corresponds to the brigade's six or seven battalions, with the remainder allotted to the divisional staff and support. This likely includes the 'T'-shaped buildings located south of the taller buildings. [c]

Other buildings that can be identified include a series of covered outdoor classrooms on the eastern edge of the parade-yard, which can be seen in use during 12/2012 [d]. Further east is a column of administrative offices (ex: personnel) [e]. North of the parade-yard is the brigade HQ [f], and the garrison's gym [g], mosque [h] and garages/workshops [i]. The buildings in the southern portion include residential housing [j], and divisional offices [k].

Several motor-pools can be found on the periphery. Near the southern entrance is a pool of engineering equipment including at least one excavator, two graders, three (+/-) bulldozers, and three (+/-) front end-loaders, and about 15 large trucks of various types [l]. A number of buses can be found in adjacent compounds, their prominent front and side windows visible in 12/2012.

Slightly south-east of the division's HQ is a motor-pool containing around 15-20 3/4-ton trucks, and around nine larger trucks. [m] The larger trucks are likely Mercedes L911 given the overall length (~6.5m), and short-bonnet. About half of which are uncovered, while the rest carry a container, or other cargo. Although these are all multi-purpose vehicles, the organization is consistent with a divisional headquarters.

To the west of the barracks is a pool containing at least six 1 1/4-ton flat-bed trucks fitted with containers typically associated with communication-shelters, or other electronic equipment. [n] The nearby trailers are likely the generators typically found alongside this equipment.

Immediately to the north is another pool containing a battery of six in three platoons of two. [o] That being said, the weapons themselves cannot be identified, and may instead be more mundane towed items, such as field-kitchens or aid-stations. Along with these systems are a number of associated support elements including 12 open-topped trucks organized into three sections of four. These include the short-bonnet 911s as well as more modern cab-over-engine models. Opposite these, are six more trucks of a similar type; one is equipped with a large container (possibly signals/HQ), three are covered (possibly H20/POL), two are uncovered (general transport). Alongside these heavy trucks are a handful of smaller 3/4-ton vehicles.

At the north of the garrison are four more motor-pools in a row. In the westernmost pool, between 03/2012 and 02/2013, are upwards of 15 1/4-ton Jeeps, four 3/4-ton vehicles, and 8-10 larger trucks. [p] The latter category includes around three tankers, four general-purpose trucks, and one container truck.

The pool to the east includes two+ tankers, three container-carrying flatbeds, and a handful of smaller vehicles and trailers. [q]

East of this is a pool containing seven 3/4-ton trucks, 20+ 1/4-ton Jeeps, and eight heavy trucks. [r] The latter category includes four uncovered trucks, three tankers, and one-two container trucks. On top of this, there also two distinct categories of four-six towed items. These may be trailers, or towed weapons like the Zu-23-2. The easternmost motor-pool has roughly the same type and number of equipment. [s]

It is reasonable to believe that the three most populated pools in this above-described row represent the brigade's three infantry battalions. Each has 15-20 1/4-ton Safir/Jeeps, and four-seven 3/4-ton vehicles to provide tactical mobility, and carry weapons. These vehicles, or at least some of them, make-up battalion-level weapons companies, which likely includes a mortar platoon (82 mm), an anti-tank platoon (recoilless rifle), and a machine-gun platoon (DShK). The DShKs have been seen with anti-aircraft sights, suggesting they double as the bn's air-defense, though they may be supplemented by MANPADSs and Zu-23-2s. Other weapons seen on parade, like TOW ATGMs, and 107 mm rockets might be found at this level, but might also be deployed as brigade assets.

The rifle companies themselves are armed with the usual mix of G-3 rifles, MG-3 machine-guns, and RPG-7 anti-tank weapons. Given nation-wide patterns, the company likely includes a 60 mm mortar section.Parade photography suggests that the rifle units make heavy use of motor-bike and ATVs for tactical mobility. One unknown is the level at which the AM-50 (Steyr HS.50 copy) is deployed.

 In addition to these tactical vehicles, all three pools have approximately 10 support vehicles, including four general-purpose cargo trucks, one-two container trucks for communications and signals, and two-three tankers for POL and water.

On the eastern edge of the garrison are an additional one-two motor-pools of indeterminate purpose with a number of light and medium/heavy-flatbed trucks.

In 12/2012, nine towed guns of indeterminate type with conventional split-tails can be seen in the parade yard, along with a number of troops making use of the outdoor classrooms. [t]

258th Brigade
The 258th 'Shahid Pajoohandeh' ICB is based in the 'Chehel Dokhtar' garrison near the village of Kalateh Kij north-east of Shahrud. (8) It is rumored that the commander is BG 2nd-class Zare, though the credibility of this claim cannot be assessed. (9) The date of the brigade's conversion to independent status is unknown; the first confirmed reference is from August 2013. (10)

According to the Persian Wikipedia entry, prior to its independence, this brigade was composed of three infantry battalions, one air-defense bn, one artillery bn, and one training bn. (11) Although this organization is plausible, it is likely dated and incomplete. Other sources include references to the 744th Bn (12).

Google Earth offers imagery of the base from 12/2005. Bing supplements it with imagery from between 06/2006 and 10/2008. Identified buildings include a communications building [a], a bakery [b], a kitchen [c], a bathroom [d], and a barracks [e] for an artillery-battalion's headquarters-company.

South of the parade yard are six 'H'-shaped barracks corresponding to each of the training battalion's companies. [f] Although larger than infantry battalions, the size is comparable to other Army training battalions. East of the parade yard are three distinct barracks clusters with their associated ancillary structures.  However, the complexity of the organization makes it difficult to estimate force structure/size. Annotations indicate that the northernmost cluster contains offices, barracks, and headquarters for the brigade's support battalion. [g] The cluster below this contains a barracks for the weapons company assigned to the 193rd infantry battalion [h], which has it's staff and HQ company in the 'T'-shaped buildings to the south [i].

The above comments made regarding the 158th brigade's small-unit organization are applicable here as well.

In Bing's imagery, at least three battalions of towed tube artillery – one large, and two small – are arrayed on the parade-yard. The large-gun battalion [j] is comprised of three batteries of six guns each, while the smaller gun battalions [k] [l] each have one-two batteries with seven guns instead of the usual six.

(1) Indicated by presence of regional commander at independence-ceremony for 158th brigade. C%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D9%85%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%AD
(4) ibid. YJC

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

8th 'Najaf Ashraf' Armored Division

The Sepah's 8th 'Najaf Ashraf' Armored Division is based near the town of Najafabad, west of the greater-Isfahan urban area. Along with the 14th Division, and the 15th and 40th artillery groups, it is subordinate to the Sepah's Seyyed al-Shohada operational-HQ in Isfahan. (1) Wikimapia annotations suggest the division's garrison is named 'Ashura', though this cannot be independently verified. It's current commander is unknown.

This unit has contributed to the Sepah's mission in Syria, advising pro-government forces in armored warfare tactics. (2) At least two of the division's soldiers have been killed during these operations. (3)

There is currently no evidence to suggest that the division deploys its constituent brigades in separate garrisons in the same manner as the Army. This may be a function of the rule-of-thumb that Sepah divisions are closer in size to brigade's rather than a true division. Based on garrison configuration described below, the major difference between Sepah brigades and divisions is not armored strength, but personnel strength.

Separate from the divisional garrison itself, two additional Sepah-related compounds can be found immediately to the east. This includes an collection of apartment buildings, and one with heavily landscaped grounds and an ornate/decorated hall. To the west of the garrison lies an automotive testing track (indicated by heavily-used track-patterns leading to and from the garages). Further west is a small exercise/training ground, which includes a handful of firing ranges and a cluster of buildings with an unknown purpose. Further west, across the highway, is a munitions storage facility with hardened shelters.

Thanks to the garrison's location near a major urban area, Google Earth offers a wide array of imagery, including: 03/2002, 07/2007, 11/2007, 07/2009, 09/2009, 05/2010, 07/2011, 08/2011, 09/2012, and 01/2013.

As noted above, the key distinction between the Sepah's armored brigades and divisions is the number of personnel. This is indicated by the four identical 'clusters', each with six, two-story barracks buildings. [1] These 24 compares to the six-nine in Neyshabur.

Each barracks has a footprint of roughly 450 sqm, which is slightly smaller than, but still comparable to, the footprint of those in Neyshabur (520 sqm), or the Army's new barracks in Zahedan (600 sqm) and Mashhad (500 sqm). However, the potential differences in height make direct comparisons difficult when estimating force structure. The collection of smaller buildings associated with each cluster likely include a HQ/administration, bathrooms/washrooms, and a small corner-store/canteen.

To the W/NW of the main garrison is the division's armored motor-pool, which consists of 9 rows of covered garages built around 2002, each with 11 bays. This gives the division a theoretical strength of ~100 AFVs in total. These garages are supplemented by a fenced-in motor-pool to its north.

For tanks, the division uses a mix of T-72Ss and T-55s. [2] The maximum number (31) can be seen on 05/2010 in the uncovered, fenced-in motor-pool. At other times, such as 01/2013, the majority are under the cover of their garages to the south. There is no way to reliably distinguish the T-55s from T-72s, even though the latter should be noticeably larger.
Their total strength compares to that of a single late-Cold-War-era Soviet tank bn, though the manner in which they are organized relative to each other vis-a-vis their mix of high/low capabilities is unknown. One possibility is that homogenous companies make up mixed battalions similar to the Army's former-88th AD's use of two M-48 and one M-47 co/bn. Another possibility is the use of an independent co to augment a homogenous bn of the other.

Infantry mechanization is provided by the BMP-2 IFV. On 09/2009, a total of 19 BMP-2s are visible, spread between the fenced-in motor pool, and the garages. [3] The 19 BMP-2s are likely part of a larger (<
30 IFV) mechanized infantry bn. Given the limited availability of covered storage, there is unlikely to be more than one bn's worth.

In addition to the BMP-2s, 14 additional BMP-variants are visible at the same time. [4] These are likely specialized Boragh-variants given parade imagery of the Boragh SPAAGs, and the common use of Boragh AMVs in Sepah armored units. The observed numbers might translate to a battery or two of each (depending on battery size and how many remain under cover).

Upwards of 15 M113 or M577s can be seen on 07/2009, which, according to parade imagery, are used as command vehicles, likely in bn HQs, and – possibly – co HQs for light AFVs [5]. Parade imagery also shows the quarter-ton Safir Jeep serving as a command vehicle.

In 2009, 10 unidentified AFVs are visible in the fenced-in motor-pool [6]. They have a turret, and are slightly longer and narrower than the nearby M113s. One candidate is the EE-9 wheeled reconnaissance vehicle known to be in use with Sepah armored units. However, the observed profile is slightly different from the suspected EE-9 based in Gonbad-e Kavus. No definitive conclusions can be drawn at this point.

The 2S1 SPHs observed on parade cannot be conclusively identified in overhead imagery. It is reasonable to assume – given observed patters thusfar – that they are deployed at bn-strength, which is about equivalent to one row of covered garages. 

Taking these observations into account, we can account for: ~30 tanks, ~30 IFVs, ~15 special-purpose light AFVs, ~15 command-AFVs, ~10 unknown light AFVs, and ~10 SPHs, which roughly approximates the number of available garage-bays. Although this is only the roughest of ballpark estimates, it is accurate enough to account for available infrastructure.

The division's transport section has their own motor pool inside the garrison-proper for their own equipment [7]. This includes at least 11 tank-transporter trailers associated with the Mercedes-Titan tractors seen on parade. In the 09/2009 imagery – the date of the annual Sacred Defense Week parades – five AFVs can be seen secured on them.

From 2009 onward, an AVLB can be consistently found next to the division's maintenance section north of the garrison-proper[8]. When it is absent (05/2010), it can be found 350 m north-east, spanning a gap. The bridge is a match for the Serat-type also observed in use with the Sepah's 21st armored brigade in Neyshabur.

Another motor-pool in the garrison's N/NE holds he bulk of the division's soft-skin vehicles and logistics support. Judging the exact makeup is difficult as the majority are hidden under cover. However, in 09/2009, several construction-vehicles are present including a tracked crane, and four front-end loaders.

Further east, in a small valley, are 75+ small boats of varying types. Although seemingly out of place so far from the Gulf, these are likely used to supplement conventional river-crossing capabilities of combat-engineering forces. These small boats were routinely used in this manner in the watery low-lands of the southern-front during the Iran-Iraq war. 

Works Cited:
(1) Construction is the strategy of the IRGC. FNA. 02/06/2013
(2) Posts by Morteza313 at Syria Uprising Thread on ACIG Forums.09/20/13 and 10/30/13.
(3) The 8th Armored Division's second martyr in Syria in recent months. Najafabad News.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Kuhestak Coastal Missile Battery

On 'Navy Day 2013', the IRIN commander - Admiral Sayyari - noted that the service was continuing to develop their infrastructure along the country's south-eastern coast, including the expansion of ports at Sirik, Jask, Kuhestak, Konarak, and Pasabandar. [1] Although the current IRIN construction is absent from currently available IMINT, one of these locations - Kuhestak - is already host to a legacy ASCM battery dating from height of the Tanker War.

In the mid/late-1980s, attacks on commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf began to heat up, first as Iraq sought to slow Iran's ground offensives, and then as Iran sought to retaliate in kind. For their part, Tehran found themselves relying on lightweight air and surface-launched weapons that limited their ability to project power. To remedy this, Tehran attempted to procure more potent weapons like the HY-2 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). The first examples were captured from Iraqi positions on the Faw peninsula in February 1986 during the Valfajr-8 offensive, which were then supplemented afterward by direct deliveries from China. [2]

To field these new systems, both the IRIN and the IRGCN began constructing a number of coastal garrisons, including a hardened battery near the town of of Kuhestak at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. By July 1987, Washigton noted the operational deployment of HY-2s at Kuhestak. [3] A year later, as US-Iranian confrontation continued to escalate, the underground-facilities at Kuhestak were near completion. To Washington, this battery posed a unique threat because - unlike the facilities at Abu Musa or elsewhere - the underground facilities at Kuhestak allowed Iranian forces to conceal the otherwise time-consuming launch-preparation from airborne sensors, increasing their chances at carrying out a surprise attack. To counter this threat, Washington ordered the deployment of the Aegis-cruiser, the USS Vincennes. [4]

Although the Vincennes ultimately played a key role in Iran's acceptance of the 1988 ceasefire - the downing of a civilian-airliner was instrumental in convincing Tehran that the regional and global balance of power had turned against it - it was never called to defend against the cruise-missile threat. Tehran's decision not to escalate the confrontation in this manner was due in large part to the red-line drawn by Washington, which deterred Tehran from ordering the use of HY-2s in the southern Gulf.

25 years later, the hardened facilities at Kuhestak remain, though it is unclear whether they are maintained, let alone hosting an active garrison. As Iran's naval forces have replaced their HY-2s with container-launched missiles in self-contained, mobile platforms, there is a decreasing need for these static bases with overhead cover and concealment. However, given that the HY-2 can still be seen on exercises, being fired from pre-established launch zones, it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

Located about 8 km south of the town of Kuhestak, the battery is dug into a small stretch of hills running along the coast. Split into three distinct sections, the battery includes two firing sections, a target-acquisition section, and a support section. Google Earth offers imagery of the base from 09/2012, 10/2012, 12/2012, and 01/2013.

The two firing sections are located side-by-side, and each feature facilities for two launchers, including concrete ramps leading from hardened shelters to firing pads, providing a place to fuel and prepare alert missiles. Each section has three-four additional hardened shelters set back from the firing-positions, which likely hold missile reloads.

On top of the adjacent hill is a cluster of hardened shelters that is likely associated with the battery's target acquisition section. This position would have offered the best vantage point for the section's target acquisition radar observed by USN forces in 1987. One probable location for the radar is a revetted pad similar to those used for radars in air-defense batteries.

Beyond these distinction sections, there are at least two more hardened shelters found elsewhere in the compound. In the shadow of several smaller hills are the batteries support facilities, including living quarters for the weapon crews. In addition, a handful (at least seven) of small concrete pads - typically associated with Zu-23-2 AAA - dot the compound.

The available evidence suggests a limited operational capability. The air-defense pads are empty, and overgrown foliage can be seen on the alert ramps. However, in 01/2013, one small wheeled vehicle can be seen in front of one of the firing-section's hardened shelters. This is the only evidence of activity across the range of imagery.

[1] Interview with Admiral Sayyari / 'Kuhestak'; newest naval base. Tasnim News. 12/02/13
[2] Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop. The Iran-Iraq War in the Air. 2000. p.197-198, 250-253
[3] US warplanes flight, Iranian missile deployment coincidental, sources say. AP. 06/06/87
[4] Iran said to fortify key strait. NYT. 06/01/88