Monday, December 14, 2009

Identifying Units of the Iranian Armed Forces - ORBAT - Artesh

The information in the section is currently being reviewed and updated and should not be taken as being 100% accurate. - October 9th 2010

First off, this is primarily a first draft and is not in its finished state. There will be modifications to it in the future.

**Note** As always, click images to enlarge

Infantry Divisions

28th Infantry Division
Based out of the Kermanshah province in western Iran, not much is known about this division.

64th Infantry Division
The 64th infantry division is based out of Tabriz in the East Azerbaijan province in northern Iran. The 64th is truly an "average" division within the Iranian army. They wear new woodland BDU's and carry G3A4 rifles (the collapsible stock model, not to be confused with the domestic bullpup G3 by the same name). One distinguishing feature is that they tend to wear a yellow neck scarf on parade, though by no means is this universal.

Now is a good time to examine what an "average" infantry division looks like. Unfortunately there is no information on the actual breakdown of brigades like there is with the commando division, though with several differences. Here are some ideas, though I have to emphasize that they are unconfirmed.

Note: I'm comparing the divisional troops to the commando division because they're the only firm base of reference for size and composition of the forces that we have.

- Larger overall size: abundance of conscripts that don't have to go through the specific commando training means it is much easier for each brigade to be much larger then its counterpart, meaning the divisional elements are also larger. On the other side of the coin, these additional troops are the benchmark for training within the IRI rather then the "elite" commando units.

-Less mobile: First off, the larger size inherently means they're not going to be moving as fast as a smaller, more agile force, thats all there is to it. Second is equipment choice, the few transports evident within parades indicate they aren't placing as much emphasis on nimble forces as in their commando. For instance, there are no motorcycle teams, but rather a preponderance of heavy troop transport trucks.

- Infantryman: The basic unit within the division, they wear woodland-pattern US BDU's and carry the G3 rifle and wear the M1 steel pot helmet. Body armor has not made it this far down into the ranks beyond special operation troops. Support weaponry is provided by the MG3 and PKM machineguns as well as the RPG (though we can assume there are ATGM troops deployed within the units) at the squad level.

-Artillery: Artillery within the Artesh varies widley and is by no means uniformly standardized, the most common being the D-30 and M-46 towed artillery as well as the self-propelled M109 howitzer and the 122 mm Grad (locally called Arash rocket, fired from the HM-20). Numerous other types exist as well, the vast majority being either towed or MLRS type. Mortars are often widespread and integrated directly into each unit.

- Air Defense: Zu-23-2's are integrated directly into infantry units, both towed as well as being mounted onto vehicles, the same holds true for MANPAD's such as the Misagh. Dedicated air defense battalions traditionally use SAM's such as the Rapier or HAWK

-Transport: Most common are large soft-skinned troop transport trucks that also serve as towing platforms for artillery as well as SAM's and AAA. Jeep's are also widespread, though they have almost entirely been replaced by the newer, indigenous, Safir, though for all intents and purposes, it can be considered identical to a regular jeep. These also serve as platforms for machinguns, mortars, recoilless rifles, a ATGM's . Along the same line as the Safir are light trucks that sere the same purpose

30th Infantry Division
Much like the 64th, the 30th is an "average" division. From what is available however, we can tell that they use the newer Safir’s rather then the older Jeeps. Artillery support is given by M-46 towed gun.

77th Infantry Division
Based near Mashhad, the 77th wears woodland fatigues and carries G3 rifles. However they can be identified to an extend because they often wear orange neck scarves on parade. This division also has a number of M-47 tanks to act as support, the exact number is not known, but I estimate it to be less then 50. This division uses more motorcycle troops then other regular army divisions. BTR-60's are used, likely in support of the few M-47 tanks in much the manner as a self-contained armored section.

Commando Units

Specific commando units are easy to distinguish from other units due to their use of the "duck hunter" camouflage that, with only a few exceptions, isn't in use with any other unit. Also notable is their tan beret which is also unique to commando units

58th Commando Division
The 58th division Based out of Dezful, and is unique in the sense that they are a full division, rather then being orgazines at the more common brigade level. Armour is not apparent beyond the simple steel helmet most often covered by a camouflaged cover and less often, netting. Support weaponry at the squad level is the MG-3 and RPG. The individual rifle is the AK-47 as with all the other commando units.
The 58th is highly mechanized making extensive use of the BTR-60’s in Iranian service. The same holds true for, trucks, jeeps and motor cycles, the latter often deployed from helicopters.
We know that the 2nd brigade of this division has the following composition:
- 3 Infantry commando battalions
- 1 Air defense battalion
- 1 Artillery battalion
- 1 Instruction battalion
Another fact we know is that Iranian divisions tend to be ‘light’ in the sense that they’re usually smaller then their western equivalents. Given this, we can extrapolate this data to the rest of the division, and it is likely that the rest of division looks something like this:
- 9 Infantry commando battalions
- 3 Air defense battalion
- 3 Artillery battalion
- 3 Instruction battalion

45th Commando Brigade
Based out of Dezful, the 45th can easily be confused with the 58th due to their close proximity. One interesting feature is that they use both the G3 rifle as well as the Ak-47. They may also be deployed with BMP-2 IFV's, or they might have merely been acting in close support with the 92nd armored division, it is unclear.

Zahedan Commando Brigade
Actual unit designation is unknown, but a commando presence has been confirmed, being seen on parade in Zahedan and during the 2006 Blow of Zolfaqar games, wearing the tan beret, and commando patch associated with the independent commando units. They also had used the AK-47 and duck-hunter camp in the same manner as the 58th commando division. Their beret, appears to be of a slightly lighter color then some of the other commando units, although this might easily just be a trick of the light. It can also probably be assumed that their organization is similar to each of the individual brigades within the 58th division.

Gorgan Commando Brigade
Same as the Zahedan brigade, nothing is known beyond that they are equipped in the same manner as the rest of the commando units.

Tabriz Commando Brigade
Same as the Zahedan brigade, nothing is known beyond that they are equipped in the same manner as the rest of the commando units.

4th Commando Unit
Located in Tehran, literally, nothing else is known, beyond its rumored existence.

23rd Commando Division
Based out of Tehran, they are perhaps one of the most elite organizations in the Artesh, they are also one of the more elusive, and they are rarely ever seen except for on parade a few times per year. This division is almost entirely volunteers, with no conscripts ensuring a high degree of professionalism. They are identifiable by their top-notch equipment by Artesh standards, notably, desert dominant safariflage, body armour, Kevlar helmets, and newly manufactured G3 rifles. They do have a distinctive patch on the upper right arm, though unfortunately it is never visible enough to give proper identification, it is possible there is a parachute on the patch indicating that they are an airborne division, but at this point, due to the image quality, that is no more then a stab in the dark. Equipment wise, as mentioned above they are never without full body armor, as well as collapsible stock G3 rifles. As far as support weaponry goes it is most commonly RPG’s and PKM at the squad level. Use of motor bikes is the only proven vehicle use as of yet

55th Airborne Brigade:
The 55th airborne brigade is based out of Shiraz. Identifiable via the duck hunter camo, a black beret and two distinctive patches on the right upper arm, visible below. They are occasionally visible wearing body armour. They are armed with G3 rifles. They jump, most likely out of the C-130H’s seen in Shiraz.

65th Airborne Operations Brigade:
Another famous unit, they are visible due to their use of safariflage DPM pattern camouflage. They wear a tactical vest and a green beret. The patch of the 65th is a dagger and golden wing superimposed over a green parachute and is located on the left shoulder. As for weapons, the MPT-9S (collapsible stock MP5) is standard, replacing the older uzi. Assault rifles are extremely rare, occasionally using a folding stock AK-47. Support weaponry, specifically the PKM, is equally rare.

Armored Divisions

Armored divisions within the Artesh deal with extreme non-uniformity with regards to type of armor used. While this might be a nightmare for logistics managers, its convenient for us who try to discern information about the armed forces of Iran, that is, divisions are organized by type of tank meaning whenever we see a vehicle, we can guess where its from just from the type.
The tanks are supported by mechanized infantry, generally recognizable by the red berets and scarves visible on parade (a theory I'm not entirely sure I buy, but as of yet, its the best explanation advanced).

92nd Armour Division
The 92nd armour division is one of the shining features of the conventional Iranian arsenal. This is evident, if only by its stationing in Ahvaz, the crucial town along the southern border with Iraq. In comparison to the hodge-podge nature of Iranian armour elsewhere, the 92nd has fared relatively well, being at full divisional strength rather then the ‘light’ divisions found elsewhere.
The division itself frequently conducts war games and exercises indicating a high level of training within the division. Luckily for us that mean that there are also lots of good images to analyze.
The armour itself is composed of T-72 tanks painted in a stripe brown pattern. The T-72’s used are probably T-72S’s, rather then the lower quality T-72M1’s, but there is no way of confirming this as the Iranians have added ERA to both models obscuring the defining features. These tanks are supported by BMP-2’s painted in a similar manner as well as a very small number of BMP-1’s, though it is possible they have been completely phased out by now. M60 tanks also appear to be deployed in this division, but when they are, they are deployed as second-line armour, usually only in the infantry support role rather then as armour.
Speaking of infantry, there appears to be a very large infantry portion of this division, likely due to the fact that there is not a dedicated infantry division located immediately adjacent to them. They wear US-style woodland BDU's and M1 helmets, normally without covers, though sometimes with netting and more recently, painted in camouflage, often garishly like, though not quite rivalling, the paint on the Tosan, Zulfiqar, and Safir. Individual weaponry includes both the AK-47 and the G3, though by far the latter is most common and is regulated by unit. Squad support weaponry is most likely the PKM, though not much information is available on it, it is most likely deployed at a lesser rate then to the. Recoilless rifles and 107 mm rockets are deployed fairly frequently; often in conjunction with Jeeps. The infantry are occasionally supported with M113 and BTR APC’s, both with and without TOW’s. Overall quality of the equipment within the infantry support seems to be lower then of those within the dedicated infantry divisions, for instance, their rifles tend to be older models, their uniforms are second hand and they use older Jeep’s instead of the Safir.
Like other armored divisions, they also make use of the BTR-60 for mechanized infantry support.
Artillery support within the division is provided the M109, note, most likely not the Raad-2, also used are the towed M-46 130 mm artillery piece and Grad or Arash 122 mm rockets.
MANPAD’s such as the newer Misagh-2 and older Misagh-1 as well as zu-23-2’s, both towed and mounted on trucks, provide embedded anti-aircraft support, though there are dedicated air-defence battalions existing, utilizing, at minimum, the HAWK system.
These are divided into three brigades, but it is unclear how it is divided further.

81st Armour Division
Based out of Kermanshah. No further information can be confirmed, but it is likely that they use the M-60A1 tank as its MBT (compared to the 92nd who use it as a 2nd line asset). The number of M60's left in service has been estimate at around 150-160. If this is true, and we attribute 30 or so to the 92nd division, that leaves the 81st with around 120-130, an extremely light division. But this is keeping in line with contemporary assessments of Iranian armor.

16th Armour Division
Based out of Qazvin, base is located north of the city, about 3-4 km. The 16th division likely uses the Chieftain tanks. As with the 81st division, this cannot be confirmed, but it is likely. The number of Chieftains left is commonly cited as around 100. Although all sources inevitably trace back to Anthony Cordesman, who has a history of underestimating Iranian strength and misreporting figures, these numbers are then tossed around and have a way of becoming generally accepted as true. For instance, he reports 422 T-77's in service, this number has become the de facto accepted number even though a 5-minute research reveals it to be around 500.

Regardless, the 16th is still a light division of Chieftains. However the Chieftain has been undergoing series of modernizations with the Mobarez program for several years as with the Safir-74 program. While the entire stock has not been converted (there is every so often a regular Chieftain on parade) most likely the majority have assuming a rate roughly comparable to the Safir-74 program.

88th Armour Division
The 88th armoured division, based out of Zahedan in the south-east of the country is definitely the runt of the litter when it comes to Iranian armour. As its stuck defending the sparsely inhabited Sistan-Baluchistan Province near Pakistan instead of the Iraq border or Tehran, it receives the worst of the equipment and participates in less training exercises per year. As such it is stuck with about and 50 M-48A5’s and an unspecified number of M-47M’s, It is likely the number is somewhere around 60-80 out of the remaining 100 M-47’s, with the remainder being stationed with the 77th Infantry division near Mashhad, though it is impossible to confirm the exact numbers.
This would mean that it would be an extremely light division, being only around 130 tanks total.
Extrapolating this further we only get, two half-strength tank battalions. This is extremely week for an entire division, but keep in mind that this units main enemy are poorly armed Sunni-rebels. The terrain also is extremely rugged, unsuitable for large armoured formations.
Infantry support within the division is much like that in the 92nd, generic army infantry with woodland camouflage uniforms and G3 rifles, MG-3’s and RPG’s.
Mechanization is provided by trucks as well as M-113's and BTR-60's like the rest of the army as well. Fortunatly, we do see the use of a different camouflage pattern. Instead of the tan/dark brown scheme we see elsewhere, at least on their APC's, we see the use of a black/olive green pattern.

Note that this picture is extremely old, it was taken in 1998 when Iran was preparing to invade Afghanistan.


  1. Found a very nice picture of a 65th airborne paratrooper:

  2. Thank you for this material. Very big thanx.
    RUnet have not this info. Have a little.
    And I have a question:
    Do you know more info about 77th Infantry Division, namely: have this division the official form (dress) as beret? And what color?
    P.S. Sorry for my bed eng=)
    With kind regards, Ivan.

  3. Anon

    Check out this post:

  4. more about the 92nd Armored Division