Army / Islamic Iranian Ground Forces (IIGF)
In 1979, the year the Shah fell, the army experienced a 60-percent desertion from its ranks. By 1986 the regular army was estimated to have a strength of 305,000 troops. By 2004 the Iranian Army had some 350,000 men (200,000 conscripts). These force numbers remained relatively static by 2008, where the Army had 130,000 regular soldiers and 220,000 conscripts.
In the fervor of the Revolution and in the light of numerous changes affecting conscripts and reservists, the army underwent a structural reorganization. Under the Shah, the army had been deployed in 6 divisions and 4 specialized combat regiments supported by more than 500 helicopters and 14 hovercraft. The Shah's relationship with the West and border disputes with Iraq had led to the development of a military geared toward fighting conventional land conflict, and not necessarily suited to Iran's domestic needs or capacity. An 85-percent readiness rate was usually credited to the force, although some outside observers doubted this claim.
After the mid-1970s, military manpower was unevenly deployed. Nearly 80 percent of Iran's ground forces were deployed along the Iraqi border, although official sources maintained that the military was capable of rapid redeployment. Although air force transports were used extensively, redeployment was slow after the start of the war. The Mashhad division headquarters, in the eastern part of the country, remained important because of Soviet military operations in Afghanistan and resulting Afghan migration into Iran.
Following the Revolution the army was renamed the Islamic Iranian Ground Forces (IIGF) and in 1987 was organized as follows: three mechanized divisions, each with three brigades (each of which in turn was composed of three armored and six mechanized battalions), seven infantry divisions, one airborne brigade, one Special Forces division composed of four brigades, one Air Support Command, and some independent armored brigades including infantry and a "coastal force." There was also in reserve, the Qods battalion, composed of ex-servicemen.
Force structure, order of battle, and unit identifications for Iranian forces differed greatly among sources. It was unclear which identifications were accurate. The evolution of Iranian units over time was somewhat opaque, and rather dated wartime designations have often been published, sometimes confusing brigades with division-sized units. During the Iran-Iraq war some Brigades formed the nuclei of new divisions, and presumably reverted with the end of the war.
The regular army also had a number of independent brigades and groups, though there was almost no reliable data on the size and number of these smaller independent formations. These included several small armor units, an infantry brigade, an airborne brigade, two or three special forces brigades, and five artillery brigades/regiments. There were 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.
The land forces had six major garrisons and 13 major casernes. There was a military academy at Tehran, and a signal training center in Shiraz. The airborne and special forces also trained at a facility in Shiraz.
The army's aviation unit, whose main operational facilities were located at Esfahan, was largely equipped with United States aircraft, although some helicopters were of Italian manufacture. In 1986 army aviation operated some 65 light fixed-wing aircraft, but its strength lay in its estimated 320 combat helicopters, down from 720 in 1980.
There were a variety of other reports of doubtful veracity. Some sources claimed that small light formations in the regular army included an Airmobile Forces Group created after the Iran-Iraq War. This formation was 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 were integrated into a Corps of about 30,000 soldiers, with integrated helicopter lift and air assault capabilities. These airborne and special forces troops were said to train together at Shiraz.
By 2004 the Army was organized in four corps, with four armored divisions, six infantry divisions, two commando brigades, an airborne brigade and other smaller independent formations. Each Iranian division had a different organization. Only the 92nd Division had enough equipment to be a true armored division, and two of the armored divisions were much larger than the others. The 28th and 84th infantry divisions were much more heavily mechanized than the others. Smaller formations in the army included the 23rd Special Forces Division, established in 1993-1994, and the 55th Paratroop Division. One source reported that the 23rd Special Forces Division was the most professional unit in the Iranian Army, with 5,000 regulars soldiers and no conscripts.
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