Thursday, July 18, 2013

The 40th Independent Infantry Brigade

The 40th independent infantry brigade's “Shahid Chamran” garrison is either located in Ardabil, or Sarab, which are adjacent cities in northwestern Iran. It is possible that they are deployed in both locations, though the available literature is inconclusive.

On one hand, some media sources refer to the Brigade's location in Ardabil, quoting civilian officials who have called for its garrison to be relocated in order to ease urban development. (IRNA, 02/2012) Furthermore, the Army has resisted these calls, saying that the city's residents prefer the garrison's presence. (FNA, 04/2010) Lastly, the Army's 199th Infantry Battalion participated in the city's 2014 Sacred Defense Week Parade, a unit which has been associated with the 40th Brigade in the past.
199th Bn, Ardabil

On the other hand, an interview with the brigade's commander in 2014 seems to unequivocally state that the brigade is based in Sarab, not Ardabil:
The commander of the Army's 40th Brigade, said on the eve of Army Day: Despite there being rumors of 40th Brigade's (Sarab) transfer to Ardabil, we formally declare not only that no units from this brigade have been transferred to Ardabil, but we are currently expanding the brigade [in Sarab].

Col. Mokhtarifar … said: The 40th Brigade continues to be active in Sarab and its units have also been strengthened.

He added: We are currently holding meetings with the Office of Natural Resources to acquire land to the east in order to expand this garrison and strengthen its units. (, 04/2013)
The following operates under the provisional assumption that the brigade is based in Sarab.

The nearest major transportation artery is Freeway 2, which runs from Tehran to Tabriz, connecting the northwest with the nation's core. The garrison itself is located on Road 16, which links Tabriz and Ardabil.

GEOINT from Google Earth dates from November 2010 and reveals a much larger compound than the nearby 36th IAB's, especially in number of barracks (19 vs 4). This may reflect a genuine difference in strength, but may also be explained by unknown factors (for instance, the 40th brigade may share the compound with the 4th Brig/21st Div (now, likely, the 421st IIB), which is also based in Sarab.

The compound is typical of army infantry brigades, with zones separated into distinct north-south columns. Mocked-up trenches, and other earthworks for training can be found to the east, while a column of automotive/mechanical-type buildings can be found to the west. In between is a parade ground, and a column of barracks, and a column of secondary garrison structures like classrooms and mess halls. Only soft-skinned vehicles are visible in the small motor pools, though this includes a handful of earth-moving equipment, including three-five bucket loaders, and one crane or excavator.

Photos from the 2013 Army Day parade portray a cross-section of the brigade's small-unit organization. Assuming the formations seen on parade reflect actual organization, several observations can be made. Rifle companies are 58-men strong, a number which includes a four-man headquarters. Company commanders tend to be 1st lieutenants, or captains, while the deputy-commander and other company-level staff are typically 1st, 2nd, or 3rd lieutenants, or sargent-majors (aka warrant officers). The rifle company includes six RPG-7s, six MG3s, and six radios, and 36 rifleman, though sometimes 60 mm mortars are included in one form or another. It's noteworthy that this is practically identical to the observed organization of Basij rifle companies. Furthermoe, small-arm subtype appears standardized at this level, for example, fixed vs collapsible-stock G3 rifles.

Assuming an intuitive distribution of this equipment, this would translate to two RPG/MG3s, one radio, and 12 rifleman per platoon (assuming the three remaining radios are held at the HQ), for a total of 17 personnel/plt. This, in turn, suggests two squads per platoon, with six rifleman, and one MG3 and RPG-7 each. It's unclear what the platoon HQ would look like, though it's likely the radio operator would function as the assistant platoon leader. Given a company is generally commanded by a junior officer, platoon command may fall to enlisted personnel.

Assuming this is an accurate picture of small-unit organization, one can conclude that light infantry companies are, by themselves, weak relative to other company-level organizations. The main culprit for this is the under-strength platoon, with it's two, rather than three or more squads. This is compounded by the lack of a company-level weapons unit such as an ATGM platoon, as well as the lack of organic mechanized transport and fire support from something like even a BTR-60 or M113. That being said, given that companies tend to be commanded by junior officers, keeping platoons (and thus, the burden on their enlisted decision-makers) small may be a good idea. In this manner, a 17-man platoon commanded by a sergeant isn't much different from a 13-man squad commanded by a corporal.

The lack of the usual support weaponry found at the infantry company level puts the burden of combat (e.g. anti-tank) support at a higher level. One of these levels is the motorized anti-tank battalion. One formation seen on parade was as strong as a rifle company (54+3+1 personnel), but was armed entirely with RPGs. One explanation for this is that we are seeing a dismounted motorcycle battalion, which would correspond to the 27-bike organization observed elsewhere (three companies of 9 bikes each, with a two-man crew per bike).

Also visible within the parade were smaller infantry forces outfitted in cold-weather gear, and ghillie suits, as well as soldiers equipped for chemical-protection and mine-clearance. Interestingly, one soldier wore crossed-saber branch-insignia on his collar, a symbol which is typically associated with cavalry forces. This may represent a reconnaissance, or other mounted force. Given that a separate insignia exists for the armored forces (a tank superimposed over crossed-sabers), it might imply a light cavalry force. This, in turn, may represent a legacy of British influence on the Iranian army. Visible on the periphery of the parade were a pair of D-30 towed guns. Given deployment patterns in other brigades, it is reasonable to assume a battalion of them provide brigade-level artillery support. 

Appendix - Commander IMINT:
Col. Mokhtari

Works Cited

Monday, July 15, 2013

36th Independent Armored Brigade

Located in the city of Miyaneh in the East Azerbaijan province in northwestern Iran, the 36th independent brigade is, according to most sources, armored, but has also been referred to as mechanized.

Parade imagery from Army Day 2013 shows the use of BTR-60PB, and Zu-23-2-armed Boragh air-defense APCs, the latter supplemented by towed Zu-23-2s. Also visible is a motorcycle-based anti-tank battalion armed with RPG-7s, whose apparent size is consistent with an assumed strength of 27 bikes/Bn.

GEOINT available from Google Earth dates from August 2010. The base covers a large area on the south-eastern portion of the city of Miyaneh, and is situated on Road 32 which connects Tehran, Qazvin, Tabriz, and Bazargan near the Turkish Border.

There is a scarcity of barracks-type buildings, only the four buildings with red roofs in the eastern half of the compound fit the bill, though there are additional apartments in the southern part of the compound. Munitions storage can be found north of road 32.

Little of the brigades armor is in view. Several pieces of bright-yellow earth-moving equipment can be readily identified. (1) One or two AFVs feature a large, rear-mounted turret with a long forward facing barrel, suggesting an M109. (2) Eight M113s are visible in two different groupings of four. (3) One or two BTR-60s are likely visible as well. (4) Likewise, only one tank is visible, though can be easily identified as a T-XX model thanks to it's circular turret. (5) It is likely the rest of the battalion is under the adjacent covered parking, which has enough room for around 40 tanks. It is possible the large, square, indented buildings function as garages, concealing the rest of the brigade's armor. 

Works Cited

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ruminations on Basij Small-Unit Organization

Among the many types of Basij units, the two with the most apparent conventional military posture are the Imam Hussein, and Jerusalem-type battalions. To maintain proficiency, these battalions conduct a number of exercises of varying scale throughout the year. Thanks to open-source coverage of these events, a general sense of organization as the small-unit level can be gleaned to a degree that usually isn't possible with Army or IRGC exercises.

Use of fire-team or squad-sized elements cannot be established.

In November 2012, it was reported that  in Lorestan 320 personnel organized in 18 platoons took part in exercises. Assuming these 18 platoons were the same size, this would translate to 17 soldiers per platoon. In 2013, during the Beit al-Moqdas exercises, imagery confirmed this number. However, during the same time, platoons with 20 soldiers were observed elsewhere.

Basic personal gear includes a four-color digital-pattern uniform, a rucksack, and webbing. Helmets, mostly steel, but occasionally kevlar, are sometimes worn; black and white scarves are common. Soldiers from Imam Hussein battalions appear to be generally better equipped(i.e. a greater prevalence of tactical gear) than those from Jerusalem battalions. In both cases, the kalashinikov-pattern rifle is the most common armament though each platoon has a small number (1-3) RPGs, SVDs, and/or PKMs.Equipment generally appears to be new-production.

Imam Hussein companies are reported, by Iranian media, to be 56-men strong. Imagery from the 2013 exercises shows Jerusalem-type companies with a strength in the high-50s. In another instance, an unknown type of company could be seen on parade with 54+3 personnel. Though the unit-type is unknown, the equipment is consistent the military-orientation of the two described here. A strength in the mid/high-50s would correspond to a composition of three rifle platoons, plus a company HQ. Little evidence exists of a weapons section held at the company-level. If it did exist, it would be the same weapon as those held by platoons (i.e. RPGs rather than ATGMs or mortars).

Razavi Khorasan

An undated photo shows what is purported to be an Imam Hussein battalion at a strength of 113 personnel, a number which includes their commander, a major. This corresponds exactly to a strength of two co/bn, though only when one assumes a complete absence of battalion staff or other support!

The 10th Imam Hussein Battalion from Mehriz in Yazd was seen during an exercise with a strength of ~97, which would also translate to roughly two slightly-understrength rifle co/bn. This number includes their commander, either a Lt. Col, or a Col.

Imagery from the 2013 exercise shows a Jerusalem battalion at eight-platoons strong, translating to an overall strength of ~136 personnel/bn. There may be an additional platoon out of view, indicating a traditional three co/bn organization, and a strength of ~153. It's worth noting that in the parade picture attached above, there are three distinct companies of the same type of unit, suggesting a three co/bn organization.

During this same exercise, in Saidabad, a number of platoons can be seen lined up, including at least three different sets of platoons, possibly corresponding to three different companies. Around 18 non-al-Zahra battalions are in view, though there may be more off camera. Of the platoons whose placards can be read, five 5th platoons can be identified, as can two 4th platoons, two third platoons, and one first platoon. This indicates at least five platoons per company, and the existence of at least three different companies. However, little can be discerned with certainty from these photos.