MOSCOW, 09 Jan 2022, RUSSTRAT Institute.
The Lion (an ancient symbol of Persia) and the Chinese Dragon can follow the path of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. This trend is confirmed by the words of Mohammad Marandi, a professor at the University of Tehran: “The more America tries to isolate Iran and China, the more such countries get closer to each other.” Both powers are striving to become regional leaders, which clearly contradicts the interests of the United States.
The result of their rapprochement was the signing of an agreement between Iran and China on strategic partnership, which provides for active cooperation in the next quarter of a century. One of the points of the agreement is cooperation in the military sphere, which is expressed both in military-technical cooperation, as well as conducting joint exercises, exchanging intelligence data, and military education.
The agreement includes a huge figure of 400 billion US dollars. Such a sum is born of a common strategic interest: Iran is a central country of the Middle East and an exporter of hydrocarbons, needing to import investments and technologies. China, in its turn, is an exporter of investments and technologies that needs a stronghold in the Middle East and imports of hydrocarbons.
It is extremely important for China to provide itself with cheap hydrocarbons, the cost of production of which in Iran is extremely low. To do this, the Celestial Empire has provided for the development of logistics in Iran. For Iran, it is extremely important to have a stable source of currency (from the sale of oil) and high-quality technical equipment of its own troops. From which the barter scheme is born: oil in exchange for technology and weapons. In return, Beijing at the initial stage is already ready to transfer a number of technologies and developments in the military sphere.
So, we turn directly to military cooperation, probably the brightest episode of Biden’s dreams – the arms embargo on Iran imposed by UN Security Council resolution No. 2231 expired in the autumn.
Iran has a large armed forces consisting of the army and the IRGC, totalling about 950,000 people. However, with such a significant number, Iran’s weapons and military equipment are physically and morally outdated. The expert community unanimously asserts that Tehran needs total rearmament.
So, what does Iran have?
The Islamic Republic of Iran has between 1,500 and 1,600 tanks, 2,345 armoured vehicles (AV) and 1,900 different types of missile launchers in service.
The most combat-ready of them are the Soviet-made T-72. The only tank that can be compared with modern models is the “Karrar”. Its production in Iran began in 2017. However, the vast majority are British “Chieftain”, M48 and M60. On the basis of the latter two, the production of Zulfiqar main battle tanks has been established. In addition, light tank “Tosan”, BMP “Boragh” and APC “Rakhsh” (remake of the Chinese clones of the BMP-1 “Type 86) are being produced.
The air forces are presented by more than 260 aircraft: bombers Su-24МК, fighter-bombers F-4E “Phantom-2” and F-4D, MiG-29, F-14A “Tomcat”, F-5E tiger, F-7, “Mirage F1”, “Saeqeh”. There are more than 110 auxiliary aircraft available: RF-4E, RF-5 reconnaissance aircraft, IL-76 Simorgh AWACS aircraft, C-130E Hercules transport, F-27 Friendship, B-747, IL-76, B-707, B-737 tankers and F-33 communication ones.
Helicopter fleet: about 50 helicopters AV-205, UH-1 “Iroquois”, “Chinook”, “Cobra”, AV-214, “Alouette II” and other types.
The aerospace forces that are in service:
– more than 170 medium-range ballistic missile launchers (“Shahab-3” (clone of “Dongfeng 21”, “Qadr H/F“, “Sejil-1/-2”, “Qiam”);
– 50 tactical missile launchers “Shahab-1 and -2” (also Chinese clones);
– 25 “Khalij Fars” and “Fateh 110″;
– 16 anti-aircraft missile system medium-range SAMs “Sayyad-1”, 21 “Kvadrat”, “Shahin” and “Raad”, and 16 short-range “Tor-M1”;
– anti-aircraft artillery guns, including: ZU 23-2, ZSU 23-4, 35-mm ZU “Oerlikon” and “Bofors”.
The air defence system has a number of features. It includes complexes purchased in the Russian Federation and China, as well as in the USA and NATO countries back in the 70s. In part, these weapons are modern, and in part they are already obsolete, but they have been modernised.
A variety of types of reconnaissance means, anti-aircraft means and radars operating on different physical principles, having a wide range of technical characteristics, allows, with their competent use, to build a fairly strong and reliable air defence system.
The most powerful Iranian air defence systems were four divisions of the S-300PMU-2 “Favourite”, delivered back in 2016. The obsolete Chinese HY-2 SAMs (a copy of the Soviet S-75), as well as the Soviet “Kub” and S-200 SAMs remain in service with Tehran.
There is a full set of drones that are used during operations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
The navy consists of six frigates, three corvettes, several dozen patrol ships, minesweepers and hundreds of boats of various classes, called the “mosquito fleet”. Most of them are supplied by China.
It should be noted that along with surface ships, the country has a fairly powerful submarine fleet, which performs combat duty tasks mainly in the Persian and Oman Gulfs, as well as in the Strait of Hormuz.
Indirectly, the backlog of Iranian military equipment is confirmed by the data of military exercises conducted by Tehran on the border with Azerbaijan. For example, the brigades that took part in the exercises are armed with British-made “Chieftain” tanks (used in the 1970s), M-113 armoured personnel carriers used in Vietnam, M-109 and M-110 American-made guns. A small number of Russian BMP-2 and T-72 are present.
Iran’s military equipment is extremely heterogeneous in terms of nomenclature: there are old British equipment, American, Soviet, Russian and Chinese one. All this is one big headache for the armed forces of Iran. For the technical component, it is extremely important to have more or less homogeneous equipment, both in the field of its operation, maintenance, and the list of ammunition necessary for it.
In addition to the numerous foreign equipment available, Iran produces its own. It is generally believed that China is the main producer of copies from other people’s equipment. However, Iran has significantly overtaken it in this, it produces “copies from copies”. Thus, an armoured vehicle with a chassis “from one” vehicle and a turret “from another” one was born. There are many such chimeras. We will name just a few of them. For example, the English tank “Chieftain” in the upgraded version was named “Mobarez”, “Scorpion” – “Tosan”, the American M60A1 – “Samsam”.
Captured Iraqi T-54/55 with towers from the M60 became known as “Safir-74”, Chinese Type 59/69 also with M60 towers – T-72Z (should not to be confused with the Soviet T-72). The M60 tower was also received by some M47s along with the name “Sabalan”. The M48 and M60 tanks with turrets from the T-72 are called “Zulfiqar”.
The Iranians copy other equipment and try to produce it from scratch. The captured Iraqi self-propelled gun of Soviet production 2S1 was copied under the name “Raad-1”, the American self-propelled gun M109 – as “Raad-2”. Under the same name, the Soviet ATGM “Malyutka” and SAM “Kvadrat” were copied. Soviet D-30 guns are produced under the name NM-40, American M114 – as NM-41.
Chinese towed MLRS Type 63 are produced as “Haseb”, HQ-2 SAM – as “Sayyad”. The American TOW ATGM and the AH-1 Cobra combat helicopter (the carrier, in particular, of the same ATGM) were copied under the same name “Toufan”, the Improved Hawk air defence system – under the name “Mersad”. Simurgh, Azarakhsh and Saeqeh aircraft were created on the basis of the American F-5 fighter. There are such exotics as the BTR-60PB with the ZU-23-2 or even with a tower from the M47, a tower from the ZSU-57-2 on the chassis of the “KrAZ” car, etc.
How much is needed?
There are few countries that possess the latest military equipment and are ready, without listening to the voice of America, to trade weapons in the necessary volumes (and they are considerable). It’s precisely China that can be called to be the first of them. Here we can occupy our own niche, using the advantages mentioned earlier.
If to take it as an axiom that rearmament is vital, it is worth determining how much new equipment is needed. Taking as a basis the approximate organisational and staff structure of the brigade (motorised rifle, tank), which consists of 3 battalions (tank and motorised rifle), each of them with 31 armoured vehicles, it turns out that the brigade can be armed with an average of 90 tanks (BMP, APC).
The Iranian army consists of 8 armoured brigades and 12 light infantry. The IRGC has two armoured divisions, three lightly armoured brigades, and 8 light infantry divisions. In total, only 720 tanks are needed to rearm eight army brigades. In the short term, China can supply such a large amount of equipment (VT-1A, VT-4 tanks (an analogue of the main PLA tank – Type-99G), IFVs and APCs VP-1, WZ-523; and Russia – in the medium term.
If we talk about us, then there are about 7000 T-72 units in warehouses. We can transfer them to Iran, having carried out, in the future, deep modernisation. And as the “cherry on the cake” – the organisation of limited supplies of T-90.
In addition to armoured vehicles, China can supply WS-3A high-precision missile systems and WS-22 inertial guidance systems.
As for the fleet of aircraft, the deliveries of the Chinese J-10, JF-17 were noted, but their quality is inferior to Russian analogues. Given the number of aircraft, Iran needs to replace at least two hundred aircraft. In this case, we could offer aircraft from the warehouses of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. First of all, MiG-29 fighters (we have more than 800 units). In addition – routine maintenance, major repairs, supply of components, training of engineering and flight personnel.
We remember that Iran has no money now. However, first of all, we could agree on oil production in Iran for Russia. Once again, we recall that the cost of its production is almost the lowest in the world. We will be able to use this oil for our domestic market. And our own we will sell abroad for the currency. In addition, we have the experience of world practice. No one doubts that capitalist America does nothing for free.
At the same time, they are still handing over used F-16a fighters to their allies. But maintenance and repairs are no longer free. A significant part of the costs will be spent on the purchase of spare parts, tools and accessories, which in practice is impossible without the involvement of domestic design bureaus, aircraft construction and repair plants, as well as kit companies in the process. Thus, we are strengthening our own aviation industry. Russia is also able to offer aircraft modernisation, as was the case in India.
In geopolitical terms, by strengthening our allies in the Middle East, we thereby strengthen our own positions in the region of interest to us and gain additional leverage over the situation there. Especially since the Syrians and Iranians, together with our servicemen, are fighting against a common enemy – international terrorism.
For Iran, this is interesting because Iran’s F-4, F-5 and F-14 (up to 200 units) belong to the second and third generations of supersonic fighters. The MiG-29 is the fourth generation, and it is interesting for the local industry by the fact that, having mastered its repair, it will rise to the next stage of development. The transfer of relevant documentation, the author’s support of the design bureau and other activities are carried out at the expense of the country-owner of the aircraft.
The next source of funds for the Russian defence industry will be the sale of weapons of destruction, including missiles, bombs, shells for air guns, etc. Iran has a fairly developed network of enterprises engaged in the production of various ammunition.
The range of their products is quite wide – from shots to air guns and free-falling bombs to air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles based on American developments. The decision to establish the production of such things for use on the MiG-29 will require close cooperation with our domestic developers and manufacturers. A further interesting development of events may be a project for the licensed production of Russian aircraft.
But we have a problem with air defence systems. Yes, we are world leaders in this industry. However, due to delays in the supply of complexes, according to media reports, Iran intends to refocus on their purchase from China. Most likely, it will be Chinese HQ-9 (an analogue of S-300PMU2 at a lower price).
In the same basket will go Chinese anti-ship missiles (we will definitely not sell “Tsirkon” and “Kalibr”).
We must not forget that Iran itself is also hastily creating its own analogue of the S-300 air defence system, as a member of the Iranian military command Heshmatollah Kasiri said in Tehran in early 2010.
Thus, there are proposals. Tehran needs to make a decision. And it is quite possible that its result on Iran’s military equipment will flaunt: “Made in China”. Although a truly oriental decision can be made, “we will take it from you and from you too”. Here we mean a reasonable combination of equipment supplies from both Russia and China.
In any case, the rearmament of the Iranian army will raise it qualitatively many places higher in the world ranking.
The training of Iranian officers in Russian higher military educational institutions can increase the quality of power. Technology is technology, but it is also necessary to teach people new trends in the waging of wars. And we can both tell and teach how to fight.
All of this will allow Iran to get powerful allies, to get out of the blockade, having received more than it had before: money, technology, competitive and modern weapons and political support. All this can really become a nightmare not only for Biden, but also for his friends in the Asian region, Arabia, Turkey and Israel.