The murder of the Iranian general Qasim Solejmani at the beginning of January 2020 could cause a possible escalation of U.S-Iran tense relationship into an armed conflict. If the conflict truly occurs, is the Iranian Army equipped enough to stand a chance against not only the U.S. Army, but any other opponent in the region?
Iranian Military Industry- Before and After the 1979 Revolution
During the rule of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Iranian military industry was dependent on the help from the Western countries – specifically United States and United Kingdom, who supplied Iran with their own military technologies (aircraft, armor and small arms) in exchange for oil. Later, during the 1970´s, the first co-production agreements between Iran, the USA and the UK were signed and thanks to the military know-how from the West, Iran started to manufacture licensed military equipment (aircraft, helicopters and surface-to-air missiles among others). After the events of the 1979 Islamist Revolution, the Western allies put an embargo on Iran which caused the end of military supplies form the West. On the background of the Iran-Iraq War and later the Gulf War, Iran made two decisions: turned its attention to the Eastern countries to ask for military aid (which proved to be successful) and announced a new strategy in production of military technologies: self-sufficiency. Together with the Western know-how and Eastern (mostly Russian or Chinese, the real source stays unknown) armament, Iran has started to invest into its own military factories, which would produce everything that´s needed – from ammunition to missiles (Globalsecurity 2019). Since 1992, Iran has been producing its own tanks (for example the Zulfiqar class, M60A1, etc.), armored personnel carriers (BTR- 60 and Boraq), missiles (see below) and a fighter plane (for example HESA Saeqeh). It is important to note that Iran produces its military equipment based on copying American or Russian technologies. Some of these technologies are a bit outdated (Mig-29 or F-5 Tiger jets, M60 Patton tank, etc.), but thanks to a little help from Russian and Chinese experts, they are still functional and can stand a good chance in a current conflict (Militaryfactory 2019). We can say that the Iranian military industry is capable of manufacturing almost everything what the Iranian army needs, including missiles or submarines, with just a little help from Russia or China. Iran is using the black market to get to modern technologies in these two countries.
Iranian Missiles Arsenal
Iran possesses the largest stock of missiles in the Middle East. There are various types of these missiles – several types of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM), medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM), cruise missiles and artillery projectiles. Besides that, Iran is probably (it has not been officially announced) developing its first intermediate-range ballistic missile (Center for Strategic and International Studies 2018), and in 2017 Iran successfully started its space program thanks to the space launch vehicle (SLV) Safir which placed four satellites into the low Earth orbit (Center for Strategic and International Studies 2017). Iran has obtained its first missiles from North Korea in 1987. They were the SRBMs Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6, which were copied from the older Soviet SRBM known as Scud-B and Scud-C. In Iran, these missiles were adjusted and renamed as Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 (Center for Nonproliferation Studies 2001). Since then, Iran has been manufacturing missiles on their own. Soon after Shahab-2, the first MRBM Shahab-3 was created, and in the 21st century more than 10 other series or modifications of SRBMs or MRBMs were introduced by the Iranian military industry (Army Technology 2020). Iran is trying not only to increase its missile stock quantity, but also the quality of every missile series currently in an operational mode. With current capabilities, it is possible for Iran to hit a target in a 2000-2500 km radius, including targets in Israel and South-Eastern Europe or any U.S. base in the Middle East. Most of the missiles the country has are ballistic surface-to-surface missiles. (Army-technology 2020).
Iran´s Potential: Regional Conflict and Proliferation
Iran´s military strength is considered as the 14th most powerful in the world. In the region, there is only one country more powerful than Iran: Turkey (currently in the 9th place). Iran´s biggest rivals – Saudi Arabia and Israel – are in the 25th and the 17th place (Global Fire Power 2020). From this point of view, Iran is stronger than its rivals and can be compared to Turkey. But when we look at the exact numbers, for example, Iran´s airpower is lower than Saudi´s or Israel´s, and Iranian land power is the second among these countries behind Israel. But on the other hand, Iran possesses the largest naval fleet (including submarines and naval mines) and as mentioned above, the largest stock of missiles in the region (Global Fire Power 2020). We can consider the Iranian missiles as the main source of deterrence (Lendon 2020). In their security policy, Iran prefers demonstration of power instead of escalating into an armed conflict (Byman et. al. 2001). This statement does not exclude using missiles as a demonstration of power against a civilian or army target, but it will be used as a last resort solution. To prevent any attack from the regional neighbours, it is enough for Iran just to let them know what they are capable of through a series of missile tests or military parades by which Iran sends a clear message: do not provoke us, otherwise we will use everything what we have to destroy you, if it is necessary. In a hypothetical armed conflict against the USA, Iran would be outnumbered basically in every branch of the army, but it would not be defeated easily. The geographical conditions of Iran create a perfect environment for insurgency and asymmetrical conflict (Military Defense 2019). The USA have a lot of (mostly bad) experience with counter-insurgency tactics in a Middle Eastern country, so an invasion of Iran would probably be even more expensive than the counter-insurgency conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iran, the U.S. forces would have to face two types of enemies: the Iranian army, ready to use everything they have in stock (including missiles), and insurgents, who would control the locals (Fox News 2005). The existence of missiles, together with Iran´s support of non-state armed groups in other countries, creates a problem of proliferation of this technology. There is evidence about Iran´s funding of the Hezbollah and al-Assad´s regime in Syria with supplies of rockets and missiles, as well as local production capability, plus Iran is likely supplying Houthi rebel groups with short-range missiles in the ongoing conflict in Yemen (Center for Strategic and International Studies 2018). Iran is a party of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) (Nuclear Threat Initiative 2020), but it is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) nor The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (McKay 2019). Because they proliferate their missiles together with their know-how, they contribute to the de-stabilization of countries in the region, as well as create a higher risk of civilian casualties. Furthermore, these missiles can be used as a weapon-of-mass-destruction carriers and their usage would escalate the already tense situation in the Middle East.
Author: Michael Andruch
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