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Iranian Army
Iranian Army Order of Battle
List of senior officers
Army Rank insignia
Current equipment
Military history of Iran
Historical equipment
Iranian Imperial Guard

The Islamic Republic of Iran Army is the ground force of the Military of Islamic Republic of Iran. In Iran, it is also called Artesh, which is Persian for "army." As of 2007, the regular Iranian Army was estimated to have 350,000 personnel (220,000 conscripts and 130,000 professionals) plus around 350,000 reservists according to the CSIS.[1] Conscripts serve for 18 months and have limited military training.[2]

Iran has two parallel land forces with some integration at the command level: the regular Artesh (Army), and the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, also known as the Pasdaran (IRGC).





Iranian military armor, steel and leather, dated 1450 AD. New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A national army of sorts has existed in Iran since the establishment of the Persian Empire. National armies usually appeared throughout the country's points of strength, while in times of weakness mercenaries and conscript armies were recruited temporarily from fiefdoms. The original core of full time troops and imperial body guards were called the Immortals, these were established in 580 BC by Cyrus the Great. These were replaced by the Junishapur Shâhanshâh (King of Kings) in the Sassanid Dynasty after a period of disunity and chaos in the country. Following the Arab invasion of Iran and eventual resurgence of Iranian dynasties a new full time army was formed by the name of Qezelbash in the Safavid Dynasty. The Qajar period saw several attempts to re-model the traditional Iranian military based on western models. These were met with limited success at the time.

Training over the centuries has varied wildly, however until the Qajar era it was common to see many train for combat in Zurkhaneh (Persian: House of Strength زورخانه).

The pre-revolutionary (Pahlavi) period

Following the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925 the new Imperial Iranian Army became a priority. Dramatic reforms brought in a host of western advisors and over the course of the next 50 years the army was to become the world's 5th strongest by 1979. Throughout the 1970s the Imperial Iranian Ground Forces, as they were then known, underwent a rapid transformation and increase in strength.

In 1979 the Army was a largely mechanized and armored force of about 285,000 troops; Organized in 3 corps, with headquarters in Tehran area, in Shiraz in the south, and in Kermanshah near the Iraq border. There were additional plans for a fourth corps to be established at the Chah Bahar complex at the eastern end of the Persian Gulf.[3]

Its major ground formations included the following:

  • Three armored divisions (plus one more in organization in Sistan Baluchestan): each with six tank battalions and five mechanized infantry battalions,
  • Three infantry divisions,
  • Two Iranian Imperial Guard Divisions and
  • Four independent brigades (1 armored, 1 infantry, 1 airborne and 1 Special Forces)
  • Army Aviation Command with 200 plus helicopters.

These combat units, backed up by the usual complement of support units, were said to be 85 percent operational.


Immediately after the 1979 revolution a series of purges gutted the core of the Army's western trained senior commanders. The last general to head the Imperial Iranian Army was General Gholam Ali Oveissi, who was assassinated in Paris along with his brother in 1984. He was replaced by General Gharebaghi who allied with the Islamic Republic and dismantled the Army. The purges left it poorly prepared when Iraq invaded Iran at the beginning of the Iran–Iraq War. A new cadre of commanders, shaped by their experiences in the war, drastically reduced reliance on foreign supplied equipment and training. Following the war the military pursued a dramatic restructuring, much of it under total secrecy. While still only a mere shadow of its pre-revolutionary self, the Artesh rapidy re-asserted its abilities and started to grow again.


In 1987, and on the verge of the end of the Iran–Iraq War the Artesh was organized as follows:[citation needed]

  • Three mechanized divisions,
    • Each of which composed of three armored and six mechanized battalions organized into three brigades
  • Seven infantry divisions,
  • One Special Forces division composed of four brigades,
  • One airborne brigade,
  • One Air Support Command,

and some independent armored brigades including infantry and a "coastal force."

Current status

Force structure, order of battle, and unit identifications for Iranian forces differ greatly among sources. It is unclear which identifications are accurate. The evolution of Iranian units over time is somewhat opaque, and rather dated wartime designations are often published, sometimes confusing brigades with divisions. During the Iran–Iraq War some brigades formed the nuclei of new divisions, and may have reverted to that status with the end of the war.

Jane's reported that the Army was commanded via three army level headquarters with 12 divisions.[2] The IISS reported in the Military Balance 2008 that there five Corps level regional headquarters, four armoured divisions with some independent brigades, six infantry divisions with some independent brigades, one special forces brigade, two commando divisions with some independent brigades, plus an airborne brigade. There were also six artillery groups, and aviation forces.[4] The number of divisions reported has not changed for some years. Often reported formations include the 23rd Special Forces Division, established in 1993-1994, and the 55th Paratroop Division. One source reports that the 23rd Special Forces Division is amongst the most professional units in the Iranian Army, with 5,000 regular soldiers and strictly no conscripts.

The regular armoured divisions, including the 92nd Armored Division, are sub-divided into three brigades.

The regular army also has a number of independent brigades and groups, though there is almost no reliable data on the size and number of these smaller independent formations. These include one logistics brigade, an infantry brigade, an airborne brigade, special forces (Takavar) brigades, and five artillery brigades/regiments. There are also coastal defense units, a growing number of air defense groups, between four and six army aviation units, and a growing number of logistics and supply formations.

There are a variety of other reports of doubtful veracity. Some sources claim that small light formations in the regular army include an Airmobile Forces Group created after the Iran–Iraq War. This formation is said to include the 29th Special Forces Division, which was formed in 1993-1994, and the 55th Paratroop Division. Other sources claim that the commando forces of the regular army and IRGC are integrated into a Corps of about 30,000 soldiers, with integrated helicopter lift and air assault capabilities. These airborne and special forces troops are said to train together at Shiraz.

It has also been reported that Iran is one of the 5 countries having a Cyber-army capable of conducting cyber-warfare operations. It has also been reported that Iran has immensely increased its cyberwarfare capability since the post presidential election un-rest.[5][6][7][8][9] Furthermore China has accused United States of having initiated a cyber war against Iran, through sites such as Twitter and YouTube and employing a hacker brigade for the purpose of fomenting unrest in Iran.[10][11] It has also been reported in early 2010, that two new garrisons for cyberwarfare have been established at Zanjan and Isfahan.[12]


Dassault Falcon 20 of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army at Basle/Mulhouse Airport

Iran's main battle tanks include an estimated 100 indigenous Zulfiqar MBTs, 480 T-72S, 150 M-60A1s, 75 T-62s, 100 Chieftain Mk 3/Mk 5 MBTs, 540 T-54/T-55/Type 59s, and 168 M-47/M-48s.[13]

The Zulfiqar is the defense industry of Iran's most recent main battle tank, named after the twin-pointed legendary sword of Muslim folklore. Born as the brainchild of Brigadier General Mir-Younes Masoumzadeh, deputy ground force commander for research and self-sufficiency of the armed forces, the vehicle has been developed from major components of the American M-48 tank. One of the features which has drawn the attention of the Defense Ministry is that indigenously-made parts have been used in it. The prototypes of the tank were tested in 1993. Six semi-industrial prototypes were produced and tested in 1997. The IISS estimates that over 100 Zulfiqar 1's and Zulfiqar 3's are now in service.[14]

The main attack helicopter of the Iranian Army is the AH-1 SuperCobra. The number of AH-1J's in service was estimated by the IISS in 2009 as 50,[15] though 202 were delivered before the Islamic Revolution. Iran also operates an unknown number of Panha 2091 which is an unlicensed, locally-made upgrade of AH-1J.[16]

See Also


  1. ^ "Iranian Armed Forces". CSIS. 2006-07-25. p. 14. 
  2. ^ a b "Jane's World Armies profile: Iran". Jane's Defence News 2006-08-29. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  3. ^ "Ali Neshat". Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  4. ^ IISS Military Balance 2008, p.242
  5. ^ Leyne, Jon. "How Iran's political battle is fought in cyberspace". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  6. ^ "Iran among 5 states with cyber warfare capabilities: US institute". 2006-11-22. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  7. ^ "Who's winning Iran's cyber-war?". Channel 4 News. 2009-06-16. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  8. ^ "‭BBC ‮فارسی‬ - ‮ايران‬ - ‮سایت رادیو زمانه هک شد‬". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  9. ^ Alka Marwaha (2009-06-24). "What rules apply in cyber-wars?". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  10. ^ Simon Tisdall. "Cyber-warfare 'is growing threat'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  11. ^ "Beijing accuses U.S. of cyberwarfare". Washington Times. 2010-01-26. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2009, Routledge for the IISS, London, 2009, p.245
  14. ^ "How big is Iran's military?". International Institute for Strategic Studies. 28 Sep 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  15. ^ IISS Military Balance 2009, p.245
  16. ^ "Panha hovers between repair and manufacturing". Jane's Air Forces News. 2001-08-27. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 

Further reading

  • Richard A. Gabriel, ed. (9/27/1983), Fighting Armies: Antagonists in the Middle East - A Combat Assessment, Greenwood Press, ISBN 9780313239045  - includes army order of battle as of 1978-79
  • Steven R. Ward, Immortal: a military history of Iran and its armed forces, Georgetown University Press, 2009, ISBN 1589012585, 9781589012585


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