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Nash Mir, Kazakhstan

Iran vs. the U.S.: A
Comparative Analysis

Translated By Ilgiz Kambarov

2 May 2011

Edited by Amy Wong

Kazakhstan - Nash Mir - Original Article (Russian)

Today Iran is the main enemy of the United States in the Middle East and in the world generally. One of the main goals of the USA is to change the current regime in Iran and to eliminate its theocratic government. Considering recent developments, the United States has all the necessary resources in the Middle East for a military intervention in Iran. On many occasions a variety of experts expressed the possibility of such a scenario. Representatives of the U.S. military leadership, according to some reports, have prepared a plan of battle that is in accordance with the Israeli army.

However, vigorous discussions on the possibilities of a U.S. invasion into Iran circulate in the media without thorough analysis. It exclusively depends on the military capabilities of both countries that help to define whether the intervention in Iran will take place. It does not depend on the mood of the U.S. president. Thus, we would like to provide an objective evaluation of the military potentials of Iran that it could use against the United States. Also, we will evaluate the available forces that the United States could deploy for its military operation.

Armed Forces of Islamic Republic of Iran: The Numbers

The number of army personnel consists of 120,000 to 140,000 soldiers and officers. Conscripts number another 200,000 to 230,000. So this comes out to about 350,000 soldiers and officers on active duty.

To this we can add the IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It is a certain kind of guard corps that is separate from the army and reports directly to Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, bypassing the president, defense minister and other officials. It numbers 125,000 soldiers and officers.
The mobilization capacity of the country is about 20 million people, 11 million of which have the minimum level of military training. They are members of the paramilitary volunteer militia organization called the “Basij Force.”

Armored Forces

The Armed Forces has a lot of tanks, but all of them are older models. Iran has about 650 tanks produced in the U.K. and the U.S. that were acquired before the Islamic revolution. Due to the lack of spare parts and repairs, only 25 to 30 percent of them are in service.

Over 1,000 T-72 tanks are the basis of Iranian tank forces. They mainly consist of upgraded T-72s, which are manufactured under license in Iran. There are also tanks acquired from the Soviet Union and later from Russia.

A major advantage of the Iranian military industrial complex is the independent production of tanks. First of all, its Safir-74 is based on the Soviet-made T-54 and T-55. The IRGC and the army possess about 600 to 700 units of such tanks.

The more modern “Zulfiqar” tank was produced based on the T-72. There are no more than 200 such tanks produced thus far, though it is expected to become the main combat vehicle of the Iranian armored forces in the future.

In addition, Iran produces light “Tousan” tanks, which are used in reconnaissance units. This tank is a modification of the "Borah" or "Scorpion" Infantry Fighting Vehicle. The difference is that it has more enhanced weaponry — the “Tousan” is equipped with a 90-millimeter cannon instead of the machine gun or automatic 20-millimeter cannon of the IFV.

Only the T-72 and “Zulfiqar,” which is based on the T-72, have the capability to counterstrike modern tanks. All other Iranian tanks will face heavy losses, even fighting against the enemy’s infantry.

Air Force and Air Defense

The Air Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran consists of outdated Western-made aircrafts such as the F-4, F-5, F-14 and fighting jets from Russia and China. Iran also has about 40 MiG-29 fighters and 30 Su-24 fighters. About 30 J-7 fighters, based on the Russian MiG-21, were purchased from China.

The Iranian Air Force holds about 100 AH-1J Cobra helicopters, which were bought from the United States a long time ago. It also has approximately the same number of helicopters based on the Bell-205 and Bell-206 from its own production. Out of the 100 Cobras, no more than 60 percent are in service; the rest cannot operate, due to lack of spare parts.

Iran is actively working on the development of its own aircraft. The test of the F-4-based supersonic fighter “Saeqeh” took place, and the combat-training aircraft “Tazarv” is under development.

Iranian air defense is represented by different-sized weaponry. The most modern complexes in its disposal are 10 C-200 and 29 TOR-M1 air defense missile systems. According to some reports, there are two to three C-300s, which were purchased from the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Outdated air defense systems include 45 China-made HQ-2Js, about 150 Improved Hawks and a small amount of FM-80s, also made in China.

The Iranian Air Force is unable to operate outside of its own country if striking at enemy targets. The maximum operating scale of its Air Force is in support of the army throughout the country and in providing air cover of main units of air defense and other strategic facilities.

Iranian Navy

The Iranian surface fleet consists of five destroyers, three frigates, two corvettes, 10 missile boats, 10 amphibious ships and 50 patrol boats. The majority of them are outdated models and will be quickly destroyed if they face modern warships.

The possession of three low-noise 877 "Paltus" submarines acquired from the Soviet Union have more advantages and pose a real threat to U.S. naval ships in the Persian Gulf.

Another advantage of the Iranian Navy is the shore-based HY-2 Silkworm missiles and the YJ-2s made in China. Missiles copied from Soviet-made P-15s and U.S.-made Harpoons can effectively protect the coast from enemy landing.

Iranian Missile Forces

It is one of the main components of the armed forces, and it is the most dangerous. There are three armed ballistic missiles of short and medium range. The Shihab-1 and the Shihab-2 are based on the Soviet-made SCUD missiles, and their flight ranges are 300 and 700 kilometers, respectively. The missile Shihab-3 hits targets at a distance of 1,500 kilometers.

Thus, Iranian ballistic missiles are capable of hitting any target in the Middle East, including U.S. military bases.

The Armed Forces of the United States of America

The previous information is what the Iranian army has. Let us now estimate the might of the U.S. military and the groups that it could deploy against the Iranian army.


The total number of the U.S. Army is about 500,000 people. Additionally, there are another 350,000 soldiers in the National Guard; however, the probability of deploying them outside the country is extremely low. For a military operation in Iran, only a certain portion of these troops could be allocated. Considering that the U.S. currently has operations in other parts of the world and the overall size of the army, it would be able to deploy no more than 200,000 to 250,000 soldiers and officers.

It is worth taking into account that all of them are professional soldiers, well-trained and technically equipped. According to its military potential, 200,000 U.S. soldiers correspond to roughly 1.5 to two million conscripts from Iran, Russia, China or any other country in the world. We should also mention the U.S. Marine Corps, which consists of up to 60,000 soldiers and officers. This division possesses high levels of training and extensive combat experience, which are used on the tip of strike.

Armored Force

The large amount of modern military technology and the size of its army enables the United States to represent itself as the global military power. At the moment, the tank divisions are equipped with 5,850 Abrams M1A1 and M1A2 tanks in various modifications. These are the most effective modern tanks, and their performance characteristics are much better than that of the Iranian T-72S and “Zulfikar.”

In the case of a military operation, over 2,000 Abrams tanks could be used, and a number of them are already in Iraq. The rest could be quickly deployed to the Persian Gulf.

U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force includes 145 strategic bombers, among which are 64 B1Bs and 19 B-2s with reduced visibility to enemy radars. There are 213 ground-attack A-10s and OA-10As to support the infantry.

Fighters include 396 F-15 Eagles, 217 F-15E Strike Eagles, 738 F-16 Fighting Falcons and 139 F-22 Raptors, which remains the leading combat fighter in the world that has been launched into mass production.

U.S. Air Force helicopters include about 60 Sikorsky HH-60Gs, known as the "Black Hawk." They are used to support the infantry in separate operations. In addition, ground forces have a large number of helicopters for support, but structurally these helicopters are not part of the U.S. Air Force.

U.S. transport aviation has more than 400 aircraft of various modifications, including 35 giant C-5 Galaxies, 158 C-17As and 151 C-130Y/H/Js. Transport aviation resources enable the rapid redeployment of troops and equipment to any part of the world.

Unmanned aerial vehicles include 118 MQ-1 Predators, 27 MQ-9 Readers and 13 RQ-4 Global Hawks. Modern combat vehicles can strike and perform reconnaissance without a risk to pilots.

In addition, the U.S. Air Force possesses electronic warfare aircraft, airborne warning and control (124 units), aircraft and helicopters for special purposes (50 units), primary trainer aircraft and aerial refueling tanker aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force is clearly superior in its parameters to that of Iran. If a military conflict were to take place, then the U.S. Air Force would totally dominate in the air.

U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy is the most powerful in terms of military capacity. It includes about 300 ships and is organizationally divided into six fleets and central command (one fleet).

The U.S. Navy has 11 aircraft carriers, 10 of which can carry 66 combat aircraft, including 48 F/A 18 Hornet fighters.

It also includes 22 guided-missile cruisers armed with “Tomahawk” cruise missiles, “ASROS” anti-ship missiles and “Standard” anti-aircraft missiles. Apart from them, the U.S. Navy also has 56 “Arleigh Burke” missile destroyers armed with cruise and anti-ship missiles.

Submarine forces consist of 71 nuclear submarines, 14 of which have ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

Amphibious ships provide the ability to transfer forces to any part of the world and to land on the enemy’s coast. They include two scale amphibious ships, 10 amphibious assault ships, nine landing helicopter dock ships and 12 amphibious transport dock ships.

In addition, the Navy has two hospital ships and 14 mine-sweeping vessels.

As you can see, the composition of the U.S. Navy leaves no doubt that it is able to suppress the Iranian coastal defense and provide for the landing of its troops.

Situation Analysis

Now let us analyze the situation in more detail. Technical indicators demonstrate that the military power of the United States is far superior to that of Iran. One of the major advantages that Iran had before Iraq was invaded is the fact that the American troops would have to land on the narrow Persian Gulf. Considering the level of Iranian coastal defense, the U.S. Navy would bear an inevitable loss. Today, Iran can be invaded from Iraq, which greatly simplifies the task of U.S. military forces.

However, this does not exclude the task of taking control over Iranian airspace. Here, the U.S. Air Force is likely to suffer heavy losses, especially if Iran really has at least one or two C-300 anti-missile defense systems. With 29 Tor-M1s along with the C-200, Iran can seriously damage the operation of American pilots. The MiG-29 is a good jet fighter, but Iran has them in too small a quantity to be able to fight for airspace on a large scale. The SU-24 is likely to be used in order to support the Iranian infantry, but they will be quickly destroyed.

Cruise missiles are best for destroying the air defenses system, but in order to launch them, the U.S. Navy should control the Persian Gulf first, which means that the U.S. has to destroy the air defense of the Iranian coast. That is, the operation of the United States would definitely begin with air strikes. The second stage is likely to be massive strikes by cruise missiles, and the invasion of ground forces would follow.

Another threat to the United States and Israel is the Iranian ballistic missile system. In the case of a successful launch, they could cause serious damage to U.S. military bases as well as to cities in Israel (Israel will definitely join the U.S. as an ally in the case of such an operation).

Therefore, the task of destroying the Iranian ballistic missile systems is another major task for the U.S. Air Force. Generally, this task is quite achievable but with inevitably significant losses.

As for ground combat, the main advantage of Iran is the fact that it has a good opportunity for quick mobilization of the Basij force. Its numerical advantage would allow the Iranian commanders give additional burden to U.S. troops. If Iran puts efforts on strengthening all population centers in the way of invading forces, then United States will be mired in street warfare for a long time.

Such a level of defense will only be achievable if Iran has several days for mobilization and organization. Moreover, the Iranian Air Force and Air Defense Forces will not be completely destroyed in the first two days of the operation. That is, the army and the IRGC will have to keep holding back U.S. troops until a reinforcement of mobilized reservists arrive from behind. In such a scenario, Iran has a good chance to deter U.S. troops successfully and even move toward waging offensive operations, despite the fact that it would lose control over the air and of the line of coastal defense.

Thus, a U.S. military operation against Iran is a serious risk for the entire American military command. Firstly, it would entail great losses in manpower and technology. Secondly, there is a chance that the United States may even lose this war and could be forced to retreat. In this case, the reputation of the United States as the greatest military power will be damaged dramatically. Thirdly, a successful attack by the Iranian missile forces could completely destroy a number of U.S. military bases in the Middle East region, leading to huge losses that would lead to the collapse of the reputation of the U.S. Army as whole.


The possibility of a military operation of the United States against the Islamic Republic of Iran is extremely low. Under current circumstances, it is hardly expected to take place.



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