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Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL)


Armed forces manpower increased substantially throughout the 1970s as Shah Reza Pahlavi implemented Iran's "guardian" role in the Gulf. Following the outbreak of the Revolution, there was a sharp drop in the number of military personnel, which in 1982 stood at 235,000, including the Pasdaran, but excluding reserves. In contrast, total military personnel, including the Pasdaran but excluding reserves, stood at 704,500 in 1986. In addition to active-duty personnel, some 400,000 veterans, organized in reserve units after the outbreak of the war, were subject to recall to duty. Two-thirds of army personnel were conscripts. In the Air Force and Navy, the majority were volunteers.

The National Military Academy was the largest single source of commissioned officers in the 1970s, but since 1980 a significant number of commissions were awarded for wartime heroism and leadership at the front. Although Air Force and Navy officers had attended military academies or participated in cadet programs in the United States, Britain, or Italy before 1979, few foreign contacts were recorded initially following the Revolution. In the few instances in which contact was established, it was with Asian states, namely China and North Korea. Unlike the Army, the Air Force and Navy had experienced high attrition, and it was assumed that operations had been streamlined to be effective with fewer personnel.

Class differences in the armed forces remained virtually undisturbed by the Revolution. Commissioned officers came from upper class families, career noncommissioned and warrant officers from the urban middle class, and conscripts from lower class backgrounds. By 1986, an increasing segment of the officer corps came from the educated middle class, and a significant number of lower middle-class personnel were commissioned by Ayatollah Khomenei for leadership on the battlefield.

Iran's 1986 population of approximately 48.2 million (including approximately 2.6 million refugees) gave the armed forces a large pool from which to fill its manpower needs, despite the existence of rival irregular forces. Of about 8 million males between the ages of eighteen and fourty-five, nearly 6 million were considered physically and mentally fit for military service. Revolutionary leaders repeatedly declared that Iran could establish an army of 20 million to defend the country against foreign aggression. After the beginning of 1986, women were also encouraged to receive military training, although no women were actually serving in the regular armed forces as of late 1987. The decision to encourage women to join in the military effort appeared to Western observers to indicate an increasing demand for personnel or an effort to gain increased popular support for the Revolution or that conscription was not replacing war losses or retirements.

Compulsory conscription had been in effect since 1926, when Reza Shah's Military Service Act was passed by the Majlis. All males had to register at age 19 and begin their military service at age 21. The law, however, was of limited significance in view of government pressures for volunteer enlistments in military units at an earlier age. According to the act, the total period of service was 25 years, divided as follows: 2 years of active military service, 6 years in standby military service for draftees, then 8 years in first-stage reserve and 9 years in second-stage reserve.

In 1984 the Majlis passed the new Military Act. It amended conscription laws to reduce the high number of draft dodgers. Newspapers carried reports of people caught trying to buy their way out of military service, at an unofficial figure of about $8,000 USD for forged exemption documents. Under the pre-revolutionary law, temporary or permanent exemptions were provided for the physically disabled, hardship cases, convicted felons, students, and certain professions. Draft evaders were subject to arrest, trial before a military court, and imprisonment for a maximum of 2 years after serving the required 2 years of active duty.

Few draft dodgers, if any, were sent to jail. The normal procedure was to fine them the equivalent of $75 USD (1986 exchange rate). Under the 1984 law, draft evaders were subject to restrictions for a period of up to 10 years. They could be prevented from holding a driver's license, running for elective office, registering property ownership, being put on the government payroll, or receiving a passport, in addition to being forced to pay fines and/or receive jail sentences. Exemptions were given only to solve family problems. Moreover, all exemptions, except for physical disabilities, were only for 5 years. Those seeking relief for medical reasons had to serve, but were not sent on combat duty. Under the amended law, men of draft age were subject to conscription, whether in war or peace, for a minimum period of 2 years and could be recalled as needed.

In the past, a consistent weakness of the armed forces had been the high illiteracy rate among conscripts and volunteers. This reflected the country wide illiteracy rate, which stood at 60 percent in 1979. Compounding this dilemma, many conscripts came from tribal areas where Persian was not spoken. Thus, the military first had to teach the conscripts Persian by instituting extensive literacy training programs.

By 1986, the country's overall literacy rate was estimated at 50 percent, a dramatic improvement. This gain was also reflected in the regular armed forces. Of the three services, the Air Force fared best in this respect, as it had always done. Yet even the air force, which had developed training facilities for support personnel and homafars, was short of its real requirements. With the 1979 withdrawal of foreign military and civilian advisers, particularly from the United States and Pakistan, the operation, maintenance, and logistical functioning of armed forces' equipment was hampered by a critical shortage of skilled manpower. As purchases from non-Western countries increased, Iran came to rely on Chinese, Syrian, and North Korean instructors and those from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), among others. The reunification of Germany in 1989 ended that level of cooperation between the two countries.

In 1987, the impressive progress of the regular armed forces was counterbalanced by manpower shortages. Without the support of large numbers of irregular forces and volunteers, it was difficult to foresee how this shortage might be overcome in the immediate future.

By 1990, Iranian armed forces personnel totalled around 504,000, with around half being conscripts, all in the Army. The Air Force and Navy continued to be all volunteer. Iran also claimed to have 1 million in the Basij Forces (Popular Mobilization Army) and a Home Guard that could call upon 2.5 million. By 2000 the estimates for total force had been increased to 545,600, with between 40-45 percent of the total being conscripts. Reports of a 2.5 million strength Home Guard, and the Basij forces had been revised to 40,000 active personnel, though Iranian authorities continued to suggest that up to 1 million could be raised in time of need. These numbers remained relatively static through 2002 and 2008. As of 2008 the estimated strength of the Iranian military, including the Pasdaran, stood at 545,000.

As of 2008, 19 was the age for compulsory military service, 16 years for volunteers, 17 years for Law Enforcement Forces and 15 years for Basij Forces. All males were required to serve 18 months of active military service, while women were exempt from military service.

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