The Conventional Military
- Iran’s conventional army, navy and air force are severely limited in capability, but are strong enough to create major problems for any invasion. They are unlikely to win any major military clash if the United States intervened decisively to defeat them.
- Like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s conventional forces have significant capabilities for irregular warfare and to threaten, intimidate, and conduct asymmetric operations and wars of attrition.
- Iran can use conventional long-range missiles as terror weapons, and has strong influence over non-state actors like Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraq’s armed Shiite groups.
- Iran is a declared chemical weapon state in compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, may have a biological weapons program, and has acquired the technology and production capabilities necessary to obtain nuclear fission weapons within the next several years.
- These capabilities act as a growing, if limited, deterrent to attacks on Iran, and in some ways compensate for the limits of its conventional forces.
- Total forces: 500,000 to 525,000, including Revolutionary Guards. Most are poorly trained conscripts.
- Regular army: 350,000
- Regular navy: 18,000, including some 3,000 to 5,000 Marines
- Regular air force: 25,000 to 35,000
- Reserves: An additional 350,000 poorly trained reserves
- Paramilitary: Some 40,000. In theory, it can mobilize up to 1 million more men (3,500 battalions) in the Basij Resistance Force, which has a nominal strength of over 11 million. Only a fraction of that force receives meaningful training, although Iran has created a substantial local mobilization capability and gives Basij core elements some training with the IRGC.
- Virtually all regular military officers are now products of the revolution.
- The United States could destroy all key elements of Iranian military power in virtually any scenario in a matter of weeks, if Washington had the support of Iran’s neighbors. It could inflict devastating damage in a matter of days.
- Iran’s missile and potential nuclear capabilities should be weighed against vast U.S. and Israeli superiority in existing missile and nuclear capabilities. Israel alone could win any nuclear arms race with Iran for at least the next decade.
- Iran could not win any serious confrontation with Turkey, and cannot match the rate of modernization and defense spending by Saudi Arabia and the five other Gulf Cooperation Council sheikhdoms.
- But Iran has also already proven its ability to threaten, intimidate and carry out significant low-level or terrorist attacks—directly or through surrogates—against both major and regional powers.
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"The Iran Primer"--Book Overview
The world’s most comprehensive website on Iran, “The Primer” brings together 50 experts—Western and Iranian—in concise chapters on politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and the nuclear program. It chronicles events under six U.S. presidents. It also has leader bios, timelines, data on nuclear sites—and context for what lies ahead. Click here for a hardcopy. New articles are added at the top.