Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran
نيروهای مسلح جمهوری اسلامی ايران
Seal of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran.svg
Service branches Army
Revolutionary Guards
Law Enforcement
Commander-in-chiefSupreme Leader Ali Khamenei
Minister of Defence and Armed Forces LogisticsAmir Hatami
Minister of InteriorAbdolreza Rahmani Fazli
Chief of the General StaffMG Mohammad Bagheri
Military age18
Active personnel610,000[1] (ranked 8th)
Reserve personnel350,000[1]
BudgetUS$17.4 billion (2019)[2]
Percent of GDP3.8% (2019)[2]
Domestic suppliers
Annual exports
Related articles
RanksRank insignia of the Iranian military

The Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Persian: نيروهای مسلح جمهوری اسلامی ايران‎, romanizedNīrūhā-ye Mosallah-e Jomhūri-ye Eslāmi-ye Īrān) comprise the Army (Artesh), the Revolutionary Guard Corps (Sepāh) and the Law Enforcement Force (Police) of the Islamic Republic of Iran.[4]

The Iranian Armed Forces are numerically the largest and arguably the most powerful in the Middle East. These forces total about 610,000 active personnel (not including the Law Enforcement Force) plus 1,050,000 reserve and trained personnel that could be mobilized when needed. That makes a total of 2,010,000 military personnel that Iran could mobilize.[1] All branches of the armed forces fall under the command of General Staff of Armed Forces. The Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics is responsible for planning logistics and funding of the armed forces and is not involved with in-the-field military operational command.

Iran's military was described in 2015 as the Middle East's "most powerful military force" by retired US General and former CENTCOM commander John Abizaid.[5]


By the late Qajar dynasty, Persia formed the world's first unified military consisting of the Ground, Naval and Air Forces. After the coup in 1953, Iran began purchasing some weapons from Israel, the United States and other countries of the Western Bloc. Later, Iran began establishing its own armaments industry; its efforts in this remained largely unrecognised internationally, until recently.

Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, deteriorating relations with the U.S. resulted in international sanctions led by the US, including an arms embargo being imposed on Iran.

Revolutionary Iran was taken by surprise by the Iraqi invasion that began the Iran–Iraq War of 1980–1988. During this conflict, there were several conflicts against the United States. From 1987, the United States Central Command sought to stop Iranian mine-laying vessels from blocking the international sea lanes through the Persian Gulf in Operation Prime Chance. The operation lasted until 1989. On April 18, 1988, the US retaliated for the Iranian mining of the USS Samuel B. Roberts in Operation Praying Mantis. Simultaneously, the Iranian armed forces had to learn to maintain and keep operational, their large stocks of US-built equipment and weaponry without outside help, due to the American-led sanctions. However, Iran was able to obtain limited amounts of American-made armaments, when it was able to buy American spare parts and weaponry for its armed forces, during the Iran–Contra affair. At first, deliveries came via Israel and later, from the US.

The Iranian government established a five-year rearmament program in 1989 to replace worn-out weaponry from the Iran–Iraq War. Iran spent $10 billion between 1989 and 1992 on arms. Iran ordered weapons designed to prevent other states' naval vessels from accessing the sea, including marines and long-range Soviet planes capable of attacking aircraft carriers.[6]

A former military-associated police force, the Iranian Gendarmerie, was merged with the National Police (Shahrbani) and Islamic Revolution Committees in 1990.

In 1991, the Iranian armed forces received a number of Iraqi military aircraft being evacuated from the Persian Gulf War of that year; most of which were incorporated into the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.

From 2003, there have been repeated US and British allegations that Iranian forces have been covertly involved in the Iraq War. In 2004, Iranian armed forces took Royal Navy personnel prisoner, on the Shatt al-Arab (Arvand Rud in Persian) river, between Iran and Iraq. They were released three days later following diplomatic discussions between the UK and Iran.

In 2007, Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces also took prisoner Royal Navy personnel when a boarding party from HMS Cornwall was seized in the waters between Iran and Iraq, in the Persian Gulf. They were released thirteen days later.

According to Juan Cole, Iran has never launched an "aggressive war" in modern history, and its leadership adheres to a doctrine of "no first strike".[7] The country's military budget is the lowest per capita in the Persian Gulf region besides the UAE.[7]

Since 1979, there have been no foreign military bases present in Iran. According to Article 146 of the Iranian Constitution, the establishment of any foreign military base in the country is forbidden, even for peaceful purposes.[8]

On 4 December 2011, an American RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was captured by Iranian forces near the city of Kashmar in northeastern Iran.

In 2012, it was announced that Iran's Quds Force is operating inside Syria providing the government of Bashar al-Assad with intelligence and direction against rebel opposition.[9] There is an emphasis on the monitoring of protesters' use of the internet and mobile phone networks, including text messaging.[9]

In December 2012, Iran stated it had captured an American ScanEagle UAV that violated its airspace over the Persian Gulf. Iran later stated it had also captured two other ScanEagles.

In November 2015, Iranian special forces assisted in the rescue of a Russian pilot that was shot down by Turkey, over Syria.[10]

In April 2016, Iran sent advisors from the 65th Airborne Special Forces Brigade to Syria in support of the government.[11]

In 2016, Revolutionary Guard forces captured US Navy personnel when their boats entered Iranian territorial waters off the coast of Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf. They were released the next day following diplomatic discussions between the US and Iran.


Major general Mohammad Bagheri, Rear admiral Habibollah Sayyari and Brigadier general Abdolrahim Mousavi reviewing plans of Velayat-90 Naval Exercise
  • Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic, in Persian: فرمانده کل قوا‎, romanizedFermānande-ye Kol-e Qavā)
  • Brigadier General Amir Hatami (امیر سرتیپ امیر حاتمی) (Minister of Defence)
  • Major General Mohammad Bagheri (سردار سرلشکر پاسدار محمد باقری) (Commander of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, in Persian: رئیس ستاد کل نیروهای مسلح‎)
  • Brigadier General Mohammadreza Gharaei Ashtiani (امیر سرتیپ محمدرضا قرایی آشتیانی) (Deputy commander of General Staff of the Armed Forces, in Persian: جانشین رئیس ستاد کل نیروهای مسلح‎)
  • Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi (سردار سرلشکر پاسدار یحیی رحیم صفوی) (Senior Military Advisor to the Leader of the Islamic Revolution)[12]
  • Islamic Republic of Iran Army
    • Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi (امیر سرلشکر عبدالرحیم موسوی)(Commander-in-Chief of the Army, in Persian: فرمانده کل ارتش‎)
    • Brigadier General Mohammad-Hossein Dadras (امیر سرتیپ محمدحسین دادرس) (Deputy Commander in Chief of the Army)
    • Rear admiral Habibollah Sayyari (امیر دریادار حبیب‌الله سیاری) (Chief of the Army Joint Headquarters)
    • Brigadier General Kioumars Heydari (امیر سرتیپ کیومرث حیدری) (Commander of the Army Ground Forces)
    • Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh (امیر سرتیپ عزیز نصیرزاده) (Commander of the Air Force)[13]
    • Brigadier General Alireza Sabahifard (امیر سرتیپ علیرضا صباحی‌فرد) (Commander of Air Defense Force)[14][15]
    • Rear admiral Hossein Khanzadi (امیر دریادار حسین خانزادی) (Commander of the Navy)
  • IRGC
    • Major General Hossein Salami (سردار سرتیپ پاسدار حسین سلامی) (Commander-in-Chief of the IRGC, in Persian: فرمانده کل سپاه پاسداران‎)
    • Rear admiral Ali Fadavi (سردار دریادار پاسدار علی فدوی) (Deputy Commander of the IRGC)
    • Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi (سردار سرتیپ بسیجی محمدرضا نقدی) (Chief of the IRGC Joint Headquarters)
    • Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour (سردار سرتیپ پاسدار محمد پاکپور) (Commander of IRGC Ground Force)[16]
    • Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh (سردار سرتیپ پاسدار امیرعلی حاجی‌زاده) (Commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force)[17]
    • Rear admiral Alireza Tangsiri (سردار دريادار پاسدار علیرضا تنگسیری) (Commander of IRGC Navy)[18]
    • Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani (Commander of Quds Force) [19]
    • Brigadier General Gholamreza Soleimani (سردار سرتیپ پاسدار غلامرضا سلیمانی) (Commander of the Basij Resistance Force)[17]
  • Law Enforcement Force
    • Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari (سردار سرتیپ پاسدار حسین اشتری) (Commander-in-Chief of the Law Enforcement Force, in Persian: فرمانده نیروی انتظامی‎)



It has been reported that Iran is one of the five countries that has 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.[24][25][26][27][28] Furthermore, China has accused the United States of having initiated a cyber war against Iran, through websites such as Twitter and YouTube and employing a hacker brigade for the purpose of fomenting unrest in Iran.[29][30] It has also been reported in early 2010, that two new garrisons for cyberwarfare have been established at Zanjan and Isfahan.[31]


Source: The Military Balance (2020)[1]
Formation Army Air defense Air force Navy Paramilitary Extraterritorial Total
Islamic Republic of Iran Army 350,000 15,000 37,000 18,000 N/A N/A 420,000
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps 150,000 15,000 20,000 40,000 5,000 230,000
Total 500,000 67,000 48,000 40,000 5,000 650,000


Iranian military spending as a % of Iran's GDP

Iran's 2019 defense budget was estimated to be $17.4 billion by IISS.[2]

Defense industry

A formation flight of Iranian F-14 Tomcats, in 2008
Iran has three Russian-built Kilo-class submarines patrolling the Persian Gulf.
Iranian Air Force HESA Saeqeh
Shahab is a type of long range missile.
Fateh-110 is a type of short range missile.
Islamic Republic of Iran Army personnel marching during Islamic Republic of Iran Army Day, 17 April 2012
Mohajer 4 Unmanned aerial vehicle
Iranian Velayat-90 Naval Exercise Iran

Under the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran's military industry was limited to assembly of foreign weapons. In the assembly lines that were put up by American firms, such as Bell, Litton and Northrop, Iranian workers put together a variety of helicopters, aircraft, guided missiles, electronic components and tanks.[32] In 1973, the Iran Electronics Industries (IEI) was established.[33] The company was set up in a first attempt to organize the assembly and repair of foreign-delivered weapons.[34] The Iranian Defense Industries Organization was the first to succeed in taking a step into what could be called a military industry by reverse engineering Soviet RPG-7, BM-21, and SAM-7 missiles in 1979.[34]

Nevertheless, most of Iran's weapons before the Islamic revolution were imported from the United States and Europe. Between 1971 and 1975, the Shah went on a buying spree, ordering $8 billion in weapons from the United States alone. This alarmed the United States Congress, which strengthened a 1968 law on arms exports in 1976 and renamed it the Arms Export Control Act. Still, the United States continued to sell large amounts of weapons to Iran until the 1979 Islamic Revolution.[35]

After the Islamic revolution, Iran found itself severely isolated and lacking technological expertise. Because of economic sanctions and a weapons embargo put on Iran by the United States, it was forced to rely on its domestic arms industry for weapons and spare parts, since there were very few countries willing to do business with Iran.[36]

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards were put in charge of creating what is today known as the Iranian military industry. Under their command, Iran's military industry was enormously expanded, and with the Ministry of Defense pouring investment into the missile industry, Iran soon accumulated a vast arsenal of missiles.[32] Since 1992, it has also produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, radar systems, guided missiles, marines, military vessels and fighter planes.[37][38] Iran is also producing its own submarines.[39]

In recent years, official announcements have highlighted the development of weapons such as the Fajr-3 (MIRV), Hoot, Kowsar, Fateh-110, Shahab-3 missile systems and a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles, at least one of which Israel claims has been used to spy on its territory.[40] In 2006, an Iranian UAV acquired and allegedly tracked the American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan for 25 minutes without being detected, before returning safely to its base.[41]

On November 2, 2012, Iran's Brigadier General Hassan Seifi reported that the Iranian Army had achieved self-suffiency in producing military equipment, and that the abilities of Iranian scientists have enabled the country to make significant progress in this field. He was quoted saying, "Unlike Western countries which hide their new weapons and munitions from all, the Islamic Republic of Iran's Army is not afraid of displaying its latest military achievements and all countries must become aware of Iran's progress in producing weaponry."[42]

UAV program

Iran has produced several domestically developed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which can be used for reconnaissance and combat operations. Iran has also claimed to have downed, captured and later reverse-engineered US and Israeli drones.

Ballistic missile program

On November 2, 2006, Iran fired unarmed missiles to begin 10 days of military simulations. Iranian state television reported "dozens of missiles were fired including Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles. The missiles had ranges from 300 km to up to 2,000 km. Iranian experts have made some changes to Shahab-3 missiles installing cluster warheads in them with the capacity to carry 1,400 bombs." These launches came after some United States-led military exercises in the Persian Gulf on October 30, 2006, meant to train for blocking the transport of weapons of mass destruction.[43]

Iran is also believed to have started the development of an ICBM/IRBM missile project, known as Ghadr-110 with a range of 3000 km; the program is believed to be a parallel of the advancement of a satellite launcher named IRIS. Iran also dedicated underground ballistic missile programs

Weapons of mass destruction

Iran started a major campaign to produce and stockpile chemical weapons after a truce was agreed with Iraq after 1980-88 Iran–Iraq War.[44] However, Iran ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997. Iranian troops and civilians suffered tens of thousands of casualties from Iraqi chemical weapons during the 1980-88 Iran–Iraq War.

Even today, more than twenty-four years after the end of the Iran–Iraq War, about 30,000 Iranians are still suffering and dying from the effects of chemical weapons employed by Iraq during the war. The need to manage the treatment of such a large number of casualties has placed Iran's medical specialists in the forefront of the development of effective treatment regimens for chemical weapons victims, and particularly for those suffering from exposure to mustard gas.[45]

Iran ratified the Biological Weapons Convention in 1973.[46] Iran has advanced biological and genetic engineering research programs supporting an industry that produces vaccines for both domestic use and export.[47]

Military aid

In 2013, Iran was reported to supply money, equipment, technological expertise and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to the Syrian government and Hezbollah during the Syrian civil war, and to the Iraqi government and its state-sponsored organizations the Popular Mobilization Forces, and Peshmerga during War on ISIL.[48]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g IISS 2020, p. 349.
  2. ^ a b c IISS 2020, p. 348.
  3. ^ a b c d Iran Military Power: Ensuring Regime Survival and Securing Regional Dominance (PDF), Defense Intelligence Agency, August 2019, p. 90, ISBN 978-0-16-095157-2, DIA-Q-00055-A
  4. ^ No Operation Archived May 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Presstv.com. Retrieved on 2014-06-09.
  5. ^ "Why war with Iran would spell disaster". www.aljazeera.com. Archived from the original on 2015-11-17. Retrieved 2015-10-25.
  6. ^ Pipes, Daniel; Patrick Clawson (1992–1993). "Ambitious Iran, Troubled Neighbors". Foreign Affairs. 72 (1): 127. doi:10.2307/20045501. JSTOR 20045501.
  7. ^ a b Cole, Juan (2009-10-02). "The top ten things you didn't know about Iran: The assumptions most Americans hold about Iran and its policies are wrong". Salon. Archived from the original on 2009-10-04. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
  8. ^ "Russian Military Alliance With Iran Improbable Due To Diverging Interests". RFE/RL. Archived from the original on 18 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
  9. ^ a b Spillius, Alex (9 February 2012). "Syria: Iran's elite Quds force 'advising Assad regime'". Archived from the original on 2018-04-12. Retrieved 2018-04-05 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  10. ^ Webb, Sam (26 November 2015). "Pilot of Russian jet downed by Turkey was 'rescued by elite Iranian squad'". Archived from the original on 2018-04-10. Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  11. ^ "Iran sends special forces to Syria as 'advisors': report". i24news. Archived from the original on 2016-08-15.
  12. ^ No Operation Archived October 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Presstv.com. Retrieved on 2014-06-09.
  13. ^ No Operation Archived September 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Presstv.ir. Retrieved on 2014-06-09.
  14. ^ "Government creates 4th military arm: Air Defense". Iran Times International. February 20, 2009.[dead link]
  15. ^ "Appointment of Farzaf Esmaili as commander of IRIADF". February 20, 2009. Archived from the original on January 22, 2016. Retrieved 2018-11-03.
  16. ^ "Appointment of Mohammad Pakvar as commander of IRGC Ground Force". dolat.ir. Archived from the original on 2017-08-22. Retrieved 2018-11-03.
  17. ^ a b "Iran's Khamenei reshuffles Revolutionary Guards top brass". October 4, 2009. Archived from the original on October 13, 2009. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  18. ^ "Appointment of Ali Fadavi as commander of IRGC Navy". Mehrnews.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "Iran names deputy commander of Quds Force to replace Soleimani after killing". CNBC. 3 January 2020. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  20. ^ a b "The Consequences of a Strike on Iran: The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy" Global Bearings, 15 December 2011.
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  22. ^ a b IISS 2020, p. 352.
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  29. ^ Simon Tisdall (2010-02-03). "Cyber-warfare 'is growing threat'". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  30. ^ "Beijing accuses U.S. of cyberwarfare". Washington Times. 2010-01-26. Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  31. ^ BBC فارسی - ايران - قرارگاه های 'جنگ نرم' در اصفهان و زنجان راه اندازی شد Archived 2012-06-17 at the Wayback Machine. Bbc.co.uk (1970-01-01). Retrieved on 2014-06-09.
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  38. ^ PressTv: Advanced attack chopper joins Iran fleet Archived May 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved May 24, 2009
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Further reading

  • IISS (2020). The Military Balance 2020. Routledge. ISBN 978-0367466398.
  • (in French) Alain Rodier, "The Iranian Menace" (PDF)., French Centre for Research on Intelligence, January 2007 - Order of Battle, strategy, asymmetric warfare, intelligence services, state terrorism. Includes detailed order of battle for both regular army and Revolutionary Guard
  • Anthony H. Cordesman, Iran's Military Forces in Transition: Conventional Threats and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, ISBN 0-275-96529-5
  • 'Iranian exercise reveals flaws in air defences,' Jane's Defence Weekly, 9 December 2009
  • Kaveh Farrokh, Iran at War: 1500–1988, Osprey Hardcover, released May 24, 2011; ISBN 978-1-84603-491-6.

External links

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