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Baath Ground Forces Equipment

Most of Iraq's ground forces were destroyed during Operation Iraqi Freedom during early 2003, and all remaining equipment was junked in the immediate aftermath of the war. None of the military equipment acquired during Saddam's time remained in service.

Army equipment inventories increased significantly during the mid-1980s. Whereas in 1977 the army possessed approximately 2,400 tanks, including several hundred T-62 models, in 1987 Iraq deployed about 4,500 tanks, including advanced versions of the T72. Other army equipment included about 4,000 armored vehicles, more than 3,000 towed and self-propelled artillery pieces, a number of FROG-7 and Scud-B surface-to-surface missiles with a range of up to 300 kilometers, and an array of approximately 4,000 (some self-propelled) antiaircraft guns. The vast majority of the army's equipment inventory was of Soviet manufacture, although French and Brazilian equipment in particular continued to be acquired in Iraq's ongoing attempt to diversify its sources of armaments.

At the end of the war with Iran, most Republican Guard heavy divisions were equipped with Soviet T-72 main battle tanks, Soviet BMP armored personnel carriers, French GCT self-propelled howitzers and Austrian GHN-45 towed howitzers -- all modern, state-of-the-art equipment.

The ground offensive of Operation DESERT STORM began on 24 February 1991 as all-out attacks against the Iraqi forces commenced. One hundred hours later, President Bush ordered a cease-fire. According the estimated published immediately after the war by US Central Command, the Iraqis lost 3,700 of 4,280 tanks, 2,400 of their 2,880 armored personnel carriers and 2,600 of their 3,100 artillery pieces. Between 60,000 and 70,000 Iraqi prisoners were taken and 42 Iraqi divisions were rendered combat ineffective.

After the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm, the number of Iraqi tanks appears to have been cut in half. This is a result of both the decisive air war and the mass destruction in the less than two weeks of ground warfare. It appears that the Soviet technique used by the Iraqis of digging their tanks in only leaving the turret exposed, was a primary cause of the loss of so many tanks. US weapons tended to work quite well at blowing the tops off the tanks. And when the U.S. tanks streamed around the front lines from the West, the buried tanks were unable to dig out and move quickly, thus defeating their purpose as a highly mobile high caliber gun.

Operation Desert Storm was the first conflict to see the extensive use of depleted uranium [DU] munitions and armor. The new DU rounds gave coalition forces a marked operational advantage. Unit histories from the Gulf War contain many anecdotes attesting to the effectiveness of DU "silver bullets," as they were called by US tankers. One armor brigade commander described looking on in "amazement" as his soldiers -- who in training had never fired at targets beyond 2,400 meters (1.5 miles) -- routinely scored first-shot kills on targets out to 3,000 meters (1.9 miles) and beyond. DU armor gained an equally impressive reputation. A Iraqi T-72 has an effective range of about 1,800 yards, while an M1's range is nearly twice that.

A story illustrating DU's offensive and defensive renown involves an M1A1 "Heavy Armor" tank that had become mired in the mud. The unit (part of the 24th Infantry Division) had gone on, leaving this tank to wait for a recovery vehicle. Three T-72's appeared and attacked. The first fired from under 1,000 meters, scoring a hit with a shaped-charge (high explosive) round on the M1A1's frontal armor. The hit did no damage. The M1A1 fired a 120mm armor-piercing round that penetrated the T-72 turret, causing an explosion that blew the turret into the air. The second T-72 fired another shaped-charge round, hit the frontal armor, and did no damage. This T-72 turned to run, and took a 120mm round in the engine compartment and blew the engine into the air. The last T-72 fired a solid shot (sabot) round from 400 meters. This left a groove in the M1A1's frontal armor and bounced off. The T-72 then backed up behind a sand berm and was completely concealed from view. The M1A1 depressed its gun and put a sabot round through the berm, into the T-72, causing an explosion.

On 21 February 1991 the Pentagon reported that bombing had destroyed 1,400 of Iraq's estimated 4,280 tanks, 1,200 of its 3,110 artillery pieces and 800 of its 2,870 armored personnel carriers. On 23 February 1991 Brigadier General Richard Neal, a US Marines spokesman, said that 1,685 tanks had been destroyed, plus 925 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and 1,485 artillery pieces. According to other published figures, at that time the allies had destroyed 37% of Iraq's tanks, 41% of artillery pieces and 30% of the enemy's armored personnel carriers. With an average of 100 tanks and 100 artillery pieces being wiped out during each day of the air campaign, almost 2,000 tanks may have been destroyed, leaving just over half left. With artillery, the success may have been greater: 1,800 destroyed, leaving just 1,300, or 42%. APCs, a lesser military threat, may have been reduced to about 1,500, or just over 50%. However, the Central Intelligence Agency reportedly estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of Iraq's tanks and artillery in Kuwait had been destroyed by allied bombing as of 20 February 1991, far below the Pentagon's 35 percent figure.

By one estimate published in 1993 [The Gulf War Foreign Policy No. 90], the Allied air campaign destroyed about than 1,600 Iraqi tanks, 900 armored personnel carriers, and 1,400 artillery pieces. According to this estimate, another 2,162 Iraqi tanks were destroyed in the ground war.

IRAQI ARMY LOSSES (Kuwait only) 
            Original/   Destroyed/ 
            strength    captured 
Tanks        4,280        3,008 
AFVs         2,870        1,856 
Artillery    3,110        2,140 

Flight International March 6, 1991
In August 1993 the US House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services released a report which noted that American intelligence had assessed that 388 tanks had been destroyed in a particular zone in Kuwait. However, analysis of photographs taken by a U-2 plane of this area immediately after the cessation of the war showed that, in fact, the air campaign had only destroyed from 166 to 215 Iraqi tanks in this one zone. The mistake made by American intelligence was caused by the absence of a definite system of assessing damage caused to the enemy, and intelligence agencies changed methods of assessing the destroyed Iraqi hardware several times during the war.

By most published estimates, in 1990 Iraq had a total of about 5,500 tanks, of which apparently as many as 4,200 were deployed in the Kuwait theather of operations. Accepting the highest USCENTCOM claim of 3,700 tanks destroyed during DESERT STORM, post-war Iraqi armor holdings should amount to about 1,800 tanks. The lowest reported number of tanks destroyed was about 3,000. And based on the reported vagaries of damage assessement by various intelligence agencies, the lowest estimate of tanks destroyed might be about half the highest claimed number, or about 1,800. According to one estimate, using spare parts and equipment salvaged after the war, Iraq managed to return to service most of the 2,500 tanks that survived Desert Storm.

The UN and Kuwait say Iraq has not returned extensive Kuwaiti military equipment, including 245 Russian-made fighting vehicles, 90 M113 armored personnel carriers, and 3,750 Tow and anti-tank missiles.

In KTO on 16 Jan 1991 - air campaign startimagery347530802474
In KTO on 24 Feb 1991 - ground campaign start208721511322
Destroyed by airCENTCOM451224353
Destroyed by land or abandonedCENTCOM17082971112
TOTAL destroyed or abandonedCENTCOM21595211465
Destroyed by airimagery13889291152
Destroyed by land or abandonedimagery12457391044
TOTAL destroyed or abandonedimagery263316682196
Remainder in Iraqi control - 01 Mar 1991imagery8421412279

Although Iraq does have an indigenous tank repair capability, presumably almost all of the tanks claimed by USCENTCOM were either abandoned in Kuwaiti territory, or were damaged beyond repair. Iraq is not known to have an indigenous tank production capability, nor are there any reports of sales of any major land combat systems to Iraq since DESERT STORM [reports of sales of spare parts notwithstanding].

Estimates by various authoritative sources of post-war tank holdings by Iraq are equally diverse. The Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies suggests a total of about 1,500 tanks, which could only be arrived at by accepting the most optimistic claims by CENTCOM of the destruction of 3,700 Iraqi tanks. The claimed increase in the number of T-62 tanks between 1992 and 1994 is puzzling, as is the absence of any tanks of Chinese design. Perhaps the most curious feature is the estimate of only 200-300 T-72 tanks, since the initial stock of about 1,000 was largely deployed by the Republican Guard units that appear to have suffered the fewest losses during the ground campaign.

Conversely, the claim by Periscope that Iraq retained some 3,500 tanks as recently as 1999 would suggest that DESERT STORM losses were about 1,700 tanks, which would be at the lowest end of plausible estimates. The reported inventory of 1,000 Type 69 tanks is particularly puzzling, since this is the same number that was reported as of 1990. The provenance of the Periscope estimate is unclear, since evidently the authors repented of their independence, and by June 2000 are evidently simply repeating the IISS Military Balance estimates.

It is clear that the American intelligence community had limited insight into the precise effects of air and ground operations against Iraqi fielded forces during the 1991 Gulf War. And it is equally clear that open source estimates of Iraqi equipment holdings are subject to considerable uncertainty. In round numbers, if it were assumed that the 1991 Gulf War resulted in the destruction of one-quarter of the Republican Guard's T-72s, and two thirds of the other tanks used by the regular Army, for a total of 3,300 tanks destroyed, this would suggest that current holding are the widely reported 2,200 tanks. A similar result would obtain if a quarter of the T-72s and half the other tanks were destroyed [for a total of 2,500 destroyed], with some fraction of the remainder subsequently canibalized for spare parts. This later methodology is apparently the source of the IISS Military Balance estimates, and it is not self-evidently wrong.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on 18 September 2002 that Iraq had more than 2,000 main battle tanks, 3,500 armored personnel carriers and 2,000 artillery pieces.

According to informed sources among Iraqi defectors, Iraqi elite units still got the best equipment. For instance, the good quality T-72s were assigned to the Republican Guard, while the tanks that were less effective or needed spare parts were mostly assigned to the regular army.

While the army lost large numbers of anti-tank weapons during the war, it was still believed to retain quantities of good equipment - including MILAN man-portable guided missiles; HOT, AS-11s and AS-12s mounted on PAH-1 and SA.342 helicopters; and AT-2s mounted on Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters. In addition, there was a range of weapons mounted on armored vehicles, including HOT, MILAN, AT-1, AT-3 and AT-4 guided missiles. The army had several thousand 85mm and 100mm anti-tank guns and heavy recoilless rifles. It also retained a certain capability in the area of tube artillery, although it lost a lot of equipment during the war. It has an estimated 150 self-propelled artillery weapons, ranging from 122mm to 155mm (in comparison with an estimated 500 before the war) and probably about 1,900 towed artillery weapons (105mm to 155mm) compared with up to 3,000 before the war.

Iraq is capable of locally modifying a wide range of Soviet and Chinese technologies to make them more suitable for Iraq's specific needs. The Russian T-72M1 Main Battle Tank (MBT) was modified with additional armor in the front and rear to protect against HEAT projectiles. This "Lion of Babylon" tank was produced locally, and the technology was Iraqi. However, the soviets made all the parts and it was assembled in Iraq. This improved tank was better in sand and mud, and had night vision capability (infrared), and other improved systems.

The T-69 Chinese Main Battle Tank had been modified with a 125mm gun to upgrade its firepower to the level of a T-72 MBT, and reduce the crew size to three. No tank had been modified more by Iraq than the T-55, which the Chinese "dumped" on Iraq, ridding itself of excess 1950s surplus materiel. The Iraqis modified the T-55 with more armor plating, the addition of 160-mm mortars, and an observation mast. Some Iraqi T-55 had been fitted with a 105-mm main gun, converting this antiquated tank into a tank killer capable of firing armor-piercing rounds.

Many of Iraq's tanks and artillery pieces had been upgraded with both eastern and western components. Iraqi T-72, T-62 and T-55 tanks had reportedly been outfitted with engines and cooling systems from the Ukraine. In January 2000 it was reported that Iraq had been placing orders with Russian companies to replenish parts for its mostly Russian-built tanks, aircraft, and ships. Reportedly Iraq was using UAE companies to buy Russian spare parts in small numbers, and then Baghdad ferried them from Dubai to Basra. Rosvooruzhenie, the Russian arms export agency, had been taking orders from companies in the United Arab Emirates which did not have any need for Russian equipment. In May 1999 Rosvooruzhenie delivered a cargo of T-72 tank spares in an AN-32 plane to Al-Khaled Import/Export company of Ajman, UAE. Since they were replacement spares, rather than a complete weapons system, no one demanded an end-user certificate. In the last quarter of 1998, the same Ajman firm had placed orders for spares for the Russian Mi-8, Mi-24 and Mi-17 helicopters. Iraqi officers have made contacts with Russian suppliers at international weapons shows. Iraq was in contact with certain suppliers to provide it with spares for its T-72 tanks, BMP-2 armored personnel carriers, 152 mm towed GHN-45 artillery, BOGOMOL class patrol vessels and Mi-24 helicopters, among others. Rosvooruzhenie's spokesman denied that the organization was supplying spare parts to Iraq.

IISS Military Balance
T-55/-62 /Type-59--15001500
Type-59/69 [PRC]1500+--
Chieftain Mk3/530+--
T-72/T-72M1 500700700700
T-54/T-55/T-62/Type 59 II (PRC)1900170015001500
Type 69 II (PRC)10001000##
M-77 (T-55)6060#
Chieftain Mk 3/Mk 5 (UK)3030##
M60 (US)####
M47 (US)####
Type 6900000000
Type 5900000000

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:48:15 ZULU