The threat of war between the US and Iran escalated in Jan 2020 when in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of military leader Qasem Soleimani, Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. This action marks the most direct Iranian attack on the U.S. in almost 40 years. The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, the architect behind Iran’s nuclear program, has further raised the spectre of a major conflict; in Iraq, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on an array of Iranian front companies.
Iran views the United States as its greatest enduring threat and believes the United States is engaged in a covert and “soft war” to subvert the regime, undermining what Iran perceives as its rightful place as a regional power. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei maintains a deep, long-standing distrust of U.S. intentions. Iran views Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Sunni extremist groups, such as ISIS, as its next most dangerous threats because of their immediacy and proximity to Iran’s territory, allies, and regional influence, according to DIA analysis.
Tehran maintains defense and security ties to both state and nonstate actors to project power and support Shia groups and Shia-led governments in the Middle East. Iran uses the term “Axis of Resistance” to describe its loose confederation of like-minded state and nonstate actors across the Middle East to counter Western influence. These partners, proxies, and allies include the Asad regime in Syria, Hizballah in Lebanon, Shia militias in Iraq, the Huthis in Yemen, Bahraini militants, and some Palestinian groups. Most of these are Shia entities, but select Sunni groups—like HAMAS—also align with Iran on key issues.
To achieve its goals, Iran continues to rely on its unconventional warfare elements and asymmetric capabilities—intended to exploit the perceived weaknesses of a superior adversary—to provide deterrence and project power. Its substantial arsenal of ballistic missiles is designed to overwhelm U.S. forces and our partners in the region.
Tehran has committed itself to becoming the dominant power in the turbulent and strategic Middle East. Its ambitions and identity as a largely Persian Shia power in a region composed of primarily Arab Sunni states often put it at odds with its neighbors, most of which look to the United States and the West to guarantee their security.
In the last decade Iran, has rapidly overcome its reliance on of Russia, China, and North Korea for military developments and developed its own increasingly lethal deterrent capability. Since 1992, Iran has manufactured its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles, radars, boats, submarines, unmanned aerial vehicles, and fighter planes. This expansionism has boosting its capacity of Iran, a Shiite nation, to threaten Israel and the region’s U.S.-backed Sunni states – most notably Saudi Arabia. Iranian military experts and technicians have in recent years made great headways in manufacturing a broad range of indigenous equipment, making the armed forces self-sufficient in the arms sphere.
Iran has one of the largest and most diverse missile arsenals in the Middle East. According to a report from late 2019 from the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), the country leveraged this in the attack, with reports from a range of sources including an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds force Telegram channel indicating that the country used Fateh-110, and Qiam-1 missiles in the attack.
In 2019, Iran carried out a really sophisticated attack against Saudi Arabian oil-processing facilities. They had a combination of cruise missiles and drones that they flew over the oil refinery. The precision and accuracy with which they attacked that site was really unprecedented, and it was made possible by their mastery of drone technology and cruise-missile technology.
In the event of a war, the U.S. can carry out devastating air strikes inside Iran, while Iran could trigger multiple conflicts in the region through its proxies such as Hezbollah, the PMF and al-Houthis, besides launching ballistic missile attacks at the U.S. interests and allies..
Perhaps Iran’s greatest deterrent capability is its ability to threaten oil shipments in the Strait of Hormuz, which roughly 20 percent of global oil supplies must transverse on their way to markets. It developed advanced naval mines, small but capable submarines, coastal defense cruise missile batteries, attack craft, anti-ship missiles and armed unmanned aerial vehicles. Its swarms of small boats, large inventory of naval mines, and arsenal of antiship missiles can severely disrupt maritime traffic in the Strait of Hormuz—a strategic chokepoint critical to global trade.
“As Tehran expands its capabilities and role as both an unconventional and conventional threat in the Middle East, it is more important than ever that we understand Iran’s military power and the threat it poses to our interests, our allies, and our own security,” Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley Jr. said in a statement.
Iran is still not equipped to go toe-to-toe with U.S. forces. “Its inability to defeat an advanced Western military, such as the United States, Iran in the near-term probably will continue to emphasize its three core capabilities: ballistic missiles capable of striking targets throughout the region, littoral naval forces capable of threatening navigation in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, and support for partners and proxies capable of unconventional operations abroad,” the agency found.
Tehran has always assured other nations that its military might poses no threat to the regional countries, saying that the Islamic Republic’s defense doctrine is entirely based on deterrence.
Iran’s military expansionism of late encompasses a host of activities: developing long range and accurate nuclear and ballistic missile technology and building underground facilities in Lebanon to manufacture missiles and other weapons for its most powerful terrorist client Hezbollah. Hezbollah now has an estimated 150,000 rockets of increasing range and accuracy. On June 18, 217, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched missiles at Syrian opposition bases. Iranian officials claimed that their missiles could strike with 10 meters accuracy, it is unclear the damage done. “The spilling of any pure blood will not go unanswered,” an IRGC statement read.
In 2019 Iran showcased its advanced military power when it shot down a $200 million U.S.-made drone, captured a British oil tanker, and was implicated in drone and cruise missile strikes against Saudi oil refineries. Iran’s government is a theocracy ruled by a Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He functions as commander-in-chief and thus commands both the regular military, the Islamic Republic of Iran Army (IRIA), and the Revolutionary Guard Corps, a paramilitary organization.
The IRIA is the country’s mainstream military force, an umbrella organization for the regular Army, Navy, Air Force, and Air Defense forces. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Air Defense Forces consist of about 400,000 full-time personnel, with the vast majority—approximately 300,000—serving in the Army. The Revolutionary Guards exist to both protect the regime from internal dissent and to project power into the Persian Gulf and neighboring countries.
As of 2013, the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated the Iranian Ground Forces to have 350,000 troops, with 130,000 professional soldiers and 220,000 draftees. These troops operate 1,663 main battle tanks, 725 infantry fighting vehicles and reconnaissance vehicles, 640 armored personnel carriers, 2,322 towed and self-propelled howitzers, and 1,476 multiple rocket launchers.
Iranian naval forces are roughly split in two. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) is responsible for the Gulf area of operations and is mainly coastal-based. The conventional Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) operates in the Gulf of Oman and the Caspian Sea. Traditionally the two navies have rightly focused on coastal defence and their capabilities have reflected that. Large numbers of patrol craft and missile attack boats are used to defend its shores. However, both navies have recently added to their numbers with more advanced ships and submarines.
The IRGCN received 100 new fast attack craft in May, plus it took possession of an indigenously designed ocean-going catamaran, the Shahid Nazeri. Twin hulled, it can carry 100 soldiers and is reported to have a range of thousands of kilometres – firmly placing it as an ocean-going vessel. This – plus a new base support ship, the Abdollah Roudaki – will allow the IRGCN to increase its support for operations away from Iran.
New destroyers, such as the Dena class, will be fitted with Vertical Launch Systems for its missiles. It can pack more missiles into a given space and the load can be mixed to include air defence, anti-ship or land-attack, depending on the mission. The ships will be equipped with an improved anti-submarine warfare suite and are designed to enhance Iran’s blue water, or ocean-going, capability.
It is not only on the surface that Iran’s naval forces have increased. Submarines are being built that can now operate in the deeper Indian Ocean rather than the shallow waters of the Gulf. The Fateh, or Conquerer, submarine has been locally made. As a diesel-electric submarine, it is quiet, with a reasonable range suited more for oceans than coasts but is small enough to be a harder target to find.
The IRGCN once solely focused on the Gulf but is now looking to project its naval presence beyond the Strait of Hormuz as it finds itself involved in conflicts beyond its shores. Its focus on light, fast, heavily armed craft designed to swarm and overwhelm an adversary will now be supplemented with base ships that can reach out further, supplying military help and logistics to forces on land. The IRIN now has bigger, better ships and submarines which will allow it to patrol the Gulf of Oman and conduct operations further from its own bases as it seeks to secure its trade routes and fend off potential enemies.
Iran tests drones in military exercise
Iran launched exercises featuring a wide array of domestically produced drones in Jan 2021, Iranian media reported, days after the anniversary of the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general by a drone strike in Iraq. Iran and the regional forces it backs have increasingly relied in recent years on drones in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf. Iran’s armed forces are to test combat drones used as bombers, interceptors and in reconnaissance missions in the two-day exercises in central Semnan province, the semi-official Fars news agency said. Beyond surveillance, Iranian drones can drop munitions and also carry out a “kamikaze” flight when loaded with explosives and flown into a target, according to a U.S. official who spoke to Reuters.
Iran has also been accused of copying The US technology and deploying against Israel. In Feb 2018, a trespassing unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria which was ultimately tracked and blown out of the air by one of the Israeli Defense Force’s American-made Apache helicopters. The potentially armed Iranian UAV called “Simorgh”, or “Phoenix” in Farsi looked like an American stealth drone. Experts claim that the drone came out of reverse engineering of previously downed American drone that fell into Iranian hands.
Iran Missile power
“Iran’s continued production of missiles and refinement of ballistic missile technology pose a growing threat to U.S. forces and allies in the Middle East,” the agency found. A key concern for the Pentagon is Iran’s development of space rockets to test long-range missiles, said a defense intelligence official. Iran has a legitimate civilian space program, the official said, but DIA believes that the development of space launch vehicles “could also serve as a testbed for the development of ICBM technologies.”
Iran has the largest missile force in the Middle East but most are short-range weapons, the official said. Intercontinental ballistic missiles pose the most concern to the United States. One of the missiles Iran used to attack US bases – dubbed “Martyr Soleimani” in reference to the late general – are believed to have a range of between 300km to 750km, allowing them to target the whole of Iraq, along with other neighbouring countries Syria, some of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan to the east.
The weapons have also improved. Long-range anti-ship missiles now pack a bigger punch, with a greater range – such as the Noor, with a range of 180km (112 miles), and the Gadir, which can hit and destroy targets out to 300km (186 miles). There is even a semi-stealth missile, the Nasr-e Basr, that is currently undergoing trials. These new missiles can be mounted on a variety of platforms from destroyers to fast-attack craft, greatly increasing their lethality.
The Fateh-110 Short Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM) has been described as one of the country’s more accurate missile systems, is a road-mobile solid propellant system that was previously used by the country in an attack on a ski resort in Israel, which was intercepted by the country’s Iron-Dome missile defence system. The Fateh-110 missile is primarily operated by Iran by has also seen service in Syria and has reportedly been exported to Hezbollah in Lebanon. In 2014 Iran confirmed that it had supplied the organisation with the missiles, giving the group the ability to strike targets in Israel.
The second system that is reported to have been used in the attack is the longer-range Qiam-1 missile, with Iranian press reporting that the missile has a range of 800km – the US DIA estimates its range to be at least 750km. Like the Fateh-110, the Qiam-1 is road-mobile, but can also be launched from a silo. In the past, Iran has supplied the weapon to Houthis in Yemen, according to the US DIA. The missile is based on the technology behind the Scud missile. According to Iranian media, it uses a fin-less design to reduce its radar cross-section and increase the number of potential launch systems for the missile.
Other Military Systems
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in April 2020 announced that the country’s first military satellite has successfully been placed in orbit. Sepah News, the news agency of the Revolutionary Guard, on Wednesday morning reported that Noor (light) satellite was launched by Ghased (Messenger) satellite carrier in the early hours of April 22 from a location in the central desert of Iran. According to Sepah News the military satellite is now orbiting 425 kilometers (264 miles) away from the earth. “This is a great achievement and an aerospace breakthrough for the Islamic Iran,” Sepah News said. This is Iran’s fifth attempt at putting satellites in orbit. All previous attempts including the launch of Zafar (Victory) in February failed. According to Iranian officials the Simorgh (Phoenix) satellite carrier rocket failed to put Zafar in orbit. Western countries say Iran’s space and satellite programs are a cover for its ballistic missile program.
However, even Iran’s most modern, homebrewed equipment is based on antiquated Western equipment. The Zulfiqar tank is based on the 1960s-era M60 main battle tank, the last of which left U.S. Army service in the early 1990s. The Saeqeh fighter jet is simply a straight copy of the Watergate-era F-5E Tiger II fighter and finished off with a twin tail.
Iran has begun to mass produce a new battle tank as Tehran looks to reduce its reliance on Russian imports to bolster its military arsenal. The Karrar (striker) tank is being hailed as a breakthrough in Iran’s military capabilities, but it closely resembles the export version of Russia’s T90MS. The American TOW anti-tank missile was reverse-engineered into the Toophan missile.
Recent German reports have revealed that Tehran is working to illegally acquire technology and expertise to advance both its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The reports revealed, for instance, that three German citizens were charged in connection with “the deliveries of 51 special valves to an Iranian company” that Iran could use for its Arak heavy water reactor – a reactor that can develop plutonium for nuclear weapons and that Iran was supposed to dismantle under the nuclear agreement. They also revealed that Iran was seeking the “products and scientific know-how” to develop “weapons of mass destruction as well [as] missile technology.”
Iran is still dependent on external help the aerospace sector, advanced submarines would be invaluable for Iran were it to try and close the Strait of Hormuz. European engines, particularly from Germany’s Limbach Flugmotoren, frequently appear on Iran’s drone shopping list.
The Defense Intelligence Agency released a new unclassified report that highlights Iran’s space program as a means to advance that nation’s civilian and military technologies. The report titled ”Iran Military Power” was released Nov. 2019 as part of a DIA effort to inform government leaders and the public on major foreign military challenges facing the United States.
Iran has counterspace systems like satellite jammers. It also is seeking to improve its space object surveillance and identification capabilities through domestic development and by joining international space situational awareness projects through APSCO. In 2005, Iran became a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) which is led by China, in order to access space technology from other countries.
In an attempt to make its military industries more sustainable Iran has also sought to export its military products. In spite of sanctions, Iran has supplied Iraq nearly $16bn of arms supplies. Reuters in February last year acquired evidence of $195m in Iranian weapon supplies including mortars, tank parts, artillery, night-vision goggles and wireless communications equipment.
Iran: new thermal imaging infrared cameras
The Iranian Defense industry has manufactured thermographic cameras to be installed on various anti-armor missile systems, including Toofan, Dehlavieh, and Tosan. The manufacturer has made two thermographic cameras: the RU244TK with cooled infrared detectors, and the RU150TK with uncooled detector technology. Thermographic cameras can be broadly divided into two types: those with cooled infrared image detectors and those with uncooled detectors.
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