Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Translation - Iranian Army Ground Forces (NEZAJA) Organization Charts

The following organizational charts are sourced from a mysterious Persian-language document uploaded to a file-hosting site in 2011, and posted on a handful of military forums including and

The author is unknown and there are no references for any of its claims. Thus, the credability of this document is questionable. Despite the need for caution, the information presented is largely consistent with verified formations and the inaccuracies that do exist (ex: claimed location of the 71st MIB) have been observed elsewhere, indicating that the claims, at the very least, have not simply been drawn from thin air.

Unfortunately, this report dates from before the Samen al-Alaeme restructuring plan and thus reflects a divisional, rather than brigade-based, system. It is also unclear to what degree the following charts attempt to represent actual hierarchies, or are simply groupings based on type.

The charts have been edited for clarity and aesthetic appearance, but their substance remains largely unaltered. There is, as always, a significant risk of losing meaning through translation. For instance, basic-training centers are titled "cultural training centers", which likely has a specific meaning divorced from the typical use of 'culture' in a defense-context (soft war).

Chart Index:
1) Organization Overview
2) General Staff
3) Regional Operations Headquarters
4) Combat Units
5) Branch Training Centers
6) Basic Training Centers
7) Artillery Groups
8) Engineering, Communications, and Chemical Weapon [-Defense] Groups
9) Army Aviation Bases / Command
10) Material & Logistics Support Regions / Command
11) Healthcare Command
12) Manpower Department
13) Training Department
14) Planning and Programs Department
15) Combat Grouping
16) Combat Support Grouping
17) Combat Service Support Grouping

(As always, for full size & detail --> right click, 'view image')

Friday, February 21, 2014

Google Earth ID Guides - BTR-60 APC

A legacy of the Iran-Iraq war, the antiquated BTR-60PB APC continues to soldier on in mechanized infantry units of the Iranian Army Ground Forces (NEZAJA) alongside the BMP and M-113.

Identifying these armored vehicles on Google Earth's satellite imagery relies on the following criteria:

1) Context: BTR-60s are only deployed with Army units, and thus will never be found in IRGC-garrisons. Similarly, they are only deployed with mechanized infantry units, and thus will not be found in - for instance - artillery or logistics groups.

2) Dimensions & Length-to-Width Ratio (L/W): This is the primary way to distinguish between any wheeled and tracked AFVs. As a general rule, the former will have a higher L/W ratio than the latter.

Relative L/W Ratios:
BTR-60:  2.68
BMP-1: 2.29 (-0.39)
BMP-2: 2.13 (-0.55)
M-113: 1.81 (-0.87)

BTR-60 Dimensions:
Length: 7.56 m
Width: 2.82 m

However, this seemingly iron-clad rule is difficult to implement in practice. Very often, it is possible to estimate the dimensions such that the long-and-narrow BTR-60 will appear as the shorter and wider BMP-1.

Out of a sample of 59 measurements taken from garrisons across Iran, there was a 75% of underestimating the ratio by < 0.30 m, or overestimating it by < 0.20 m, meaning that it is easier to misinterpret a BTR as a tracked BMP than it is to confidently identify it as a wheeled AFV.

Generally speaking, using dimensions for primary identification is critical, but fraught with risk thanks to distortions introduced by environmental factors. Shadows can obscure hull-edges leading to over or under-estimates.Camera-oblique can create unnatural perspectives, stretching one dimension, while shortening another. This can be exacerbated by the target's orientation relative to the camera for the same reason (i.e. is its length parallel or perpendicular to the camera's rays?). Like shadows, the relative contrast between the hue of the AFV and the background can distort the appearance of hull edges. Often, these factors will reinforce or ameliorate others.

Most importantly however, is the human aspect. The precision of Google Earth's 'ruler' tool is low enough that accuracy depends on subjective assessments made on a case-by-case basis. The decision to move the ruler one pixel to the left, or three down (etc) because of hand-twitch may have just as much influence as all the environmental factors described above.

In this author's experience, it is surprisingly easy to confuse the BTR-60 with the BMP-1 at the point where they both start resembling overgrown sea-cucumbers.

3) Recognition Features: These include:

- Turret; small, forward-skewed. Sloped sides are often highly reflective in direct sun. Often casts a small crescent-shaped shadow. Feature tends to dissolve in all but highest-quality imagery.

- Pointed Nose; key feature for differentiating BTRs from BMP-1s. Often evident in the shadow it casts. Tends to dissolve into ogive in medium-quality imagery and can disappear in low-quality

- Square rear; although not distinctive to BTR, square-rear can be used to establish orientation.

- Sloped front/rear/sides; sloping sides can distort dimensions and/or cast shadows or reflect light depending on orientation to sun's rays.

Note: When reading these charts, the listed dimensions are those that have been measured by the author. The following numbers inside the adjacent parenthesis are the measurment's deviation from the know.

Reference Imagery:

Imagery from Iran:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Basij Organization - Imam Hussein Battalions

This piece, the first of a multi-part series covering the organization of Iran's Basij takes a look at one of the militia's primary combat-units: the Imam Hussein battalion. These light-infantry units are directly subordinate to the IRGC's Ground Forces, forming the core of their combat strength by contributing more than 100,000 reservists to the IRGC's network of brigades and divisions across the country.
Soldiers from the 10th Bn prepare for exercises
at their local headquarters in Mehriz, Yazd
Organization (external)
Organization (internal)


The origin of the Imam Hussein battalions lie in the assessments conducted by now-Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – General Mohammed Ali Jafari – during his time at the IRGC's Strategic Studies Center. By 2005 he concluded that the Basij were the 'backbone' of the IRGC, and recommended strengthening their combat-role by increasing coordination between them and the IRGC's Ground Forces (IRGCGF). [1]

Following his appointment to the position of IRGC commander in 2007, he initiated a series of reforms in pursuit of this objective. The result was the now-well known 'Mosaic Doctrine', which has been described elsewhere in great detail, but which – for our purposes – can be summed up as a province-centric organization that subordinates Basij combat operations to the IRGC when confronting 'hard threats' (i.e. interstate or conventional war), semi-hard threats (intrastate or unconventional war), and 'soft threats' (cultural, political and ideological contests).

This objective mandated new and reorganized Basij formations, which ultimately included Ashura, al-Zahra, Kosar, Beit al-Moqdas, and of course, Imam Hussein Battalions. The first IH Bns were created in 2008 and were operational by 2009. [2] [3]


Within these new categories of Basij, Imam Hussein battalions are geared toward confronting the 'hard' end of the threat spectrum. They are light-infantry battalions assigned to the nearest IRGCGF division or brigade in their province. Conceptually, it is more accurate to think of them as reservists rather than a classical militia.

This helps explains why IRGCGF units generally have much smaller garrisons than their Artesh equivalents. Instead of a large standing-force, these units are comprised of an active-duty cadre that tends to the unit's peace-time duties and mans its high-density weapon systems (like tanks), but whose majority combat-strength comes from reservists mobilized during wartime.

In January 2010, the deputy commander of the IRGCGF Brig. Gen. Abdullah Iraqi claimed that IH Bns were the “most elite, and most trained” of all Basij units and contrasted their “military orientation” with the majority of Basij, who are geared toward confronting soft-threats.[4]

In March 2012, the commander of one of the earliest IH Bns said that their primary mission is to “deal with hard threats and wars.”[5]

Comments by Gen. Jafari in September 2012 further clarified the IH Bns' role relative to other Basij units. The former constitute front-line units that are functionally subsumed into their parent brigade or division during mobilization, while Ashura and al-Zahra battalions are true militia forces designed to support or free-up these first echelon forces by covering rear areas, or providing post-war stability.[6]

Their potential employment in internal unrest is unclear. In the same January 2010 interview noted above, Brig. Gen Iraqi was asked about employing them against insurgents in Iran's south-east (Baluchistan) and north-west (Kurdistan). The IRGCGF deputy commander indicated that such a decision was the responsibility of the IRGC General Staff and thus beyond his purview, but conceded that should the IRGCGS made such a decision, there would be plenty of use for these battalions in combating insurgents.

Similarly, it is unknown whether any Imam Hussein battalions as such participated in suppressing the 'sedition '88' (aka, the 2009 election). Generally speaking, these battalions would not be the first to mobilize to counter such a threat, only being activated should the existing units (Imam Ali battalions) prove insufficient.

Outside of their primary role, these units have been mobilized to perform disaster relief operations, such as during the winter storms of 2013/2014 that paralyzed the country's north.[7] They have also tasked with providing rudimentary military training/familiarization to Basij who themselves are not military-oriented. [8]

Organization (External):

IRGC training-deputy
assigned to an IH Bn
As noted, Imam Hussein battalions are a product of a reorganization that seeks to integrate IRGC and Basij operations to point where any distinction between the two chains-of-command is functionally meaningless.

Generally speaking, the Basij operate at four levels. The first is the province itself and is the fundamental operational unit. These are divided into Areas, which roughly correspond to the county-level, though some counties are divided into multiple Areas (ex: Ahvaz County, Khuzestan). Each Area is further divided into Zones (towns/villages), which in turn are composed of Bases (neighborhoods). Bases are administrative offices, not actual garrisons, and are often found in mosques or other neighborhood hubs and gathering places.

Imam Hussein battalions operate at the Base or Zone-level meaning that their offices are found in villages or neighborhoods within towns.[9] [10] These offices are independent from non-combat Basij, and would not be expected to share facilities with them.

Although battalions are frequently identified as from this Zone, or that Area, it must be remembered that their commanders (including the commanders of these Zones and Areas themselves) are active-duty IRGC officers from the local brigade or division and do not constitute an independent chain-of-command. Bases, Zones and Areas should be thought of as administrative bodies for peace-time administration.

In September 2012, Gen. Jafari noted that more than 450 IH Bns had been created across the country. This corresponds to an average of 15 per province, and a nationwide strength of around 100,000 reservists (battalion strength described below).

However, since each province varies in size, population, and security requirements, these 450 are unlikely to be evenly distributed across the country. For instance, in Khuzestan (one of the more heavily garrisoned provinces) at least 25 are subordinate to the 7th Vali-Asr Division.[11] In Yazd, during a gathering of 10,000 Basij from around the province, IH Bns constituted slightly less than one-third of the total number, which translates to around 12 known battalions subordinate to the 18th 'al-Ghadir' Infantry Brigade.
2nd Imam Hussein Bn, subordinate to the IRGC's 18th Infanty Brigade, Yazd

Organization (Internal):

Imam Hussein battalions have both a numerical and nominal designation, though nomenclature for representing these designations varies widely. Sometimes the indicator-term 'operational' or 'Basij' is infixed somewhere in the name.This is made all the more confusing when other battalions are named 'Imam Hussein', but are not Imam Hussein-type battalions. Such are the challenges of drawing from a finite vocabulary of religious symbology.

According to comments made by the Deputy Commander of the Basij Ali Fazli, in November 2013, Imam Hussein battalions have a strength of 234 personnel.[12] This is largely consistent with open-source IMINT and supplementary reporting. For example, in the same interview, Gen. Fazli claimed that 38,206 personnel in 164 battalions were participating in exercises across the country, which translates to 233 personnel/battalion.

Similarly, exercises held near Tehran in January 2014 featured a total of 1,140 personnel in four battalions, which translates to 285 personnel/bn, some of which can be assumed to be training staff and not members of the battalion themselves.[13] Another exercise in south-western Iran, in the Ilam province, featured a battalion with 213 personnel.[14]

Meanwhile, imagery from exercises in the northern province of Gilan shows approximately 250 personnel gathered together for review, which is well within the error-range when making estimates based on the number of rows and columns in a formation.
Imam Hussein Bn, Gilan

These battalions are reportedly composed of three rifle companies of 56 personnel each, which is consistent with open-source IMINT.[15] Their designations are based on their ordinal position within the battalion (ex: first, second, third).

For example, during weapons-training at an unknown location, personnel were shown loosely clustered into companies with an average strength of 52. In Gilan, a company was shown at strength of 48-54, while in a gathering in Tehran the number was 57, and in an unknown location, a company of 51-57 was shown on parade.
Rifle Co, Gilan

This translates to a total combat strength of 168 personnel, leaving 66 battalion personnel unaccounted for. These can likely be found in the Basij equivalent of a Headquarters and Headquarters Company responsible for peace-time administration and battlefield support.

There is little evidence to suggest the existence of a battalion-level weapons company or platoon, though some of this responsibility may be subsumed under the 66 personnel noted above. There is a low-to-moderate probability of a DshK-equipped machine-gun or SPG-9-equipped recoilless-rifle section organized at an unknown level and strength.

Active-duty IRGC-GF troops providing weapon-familiarization
training on the SPG-9 recoilless-rifle
Rifle companies and their constituent platoons are equipped with AK-pattern rifles, PK-machine guns, and RPG-7 anti-tank weapons. SVD rifles are present in small numbers. Imam Hussein battalions can be recognized by their green-dominant digital-pattern BDUs, which are also used by Beit al-Moqdas battalions. Compared to the regular armed forces and other Basij units, Imam Hussein battalions have a high concentration of tactical-gear like ballistic helmets, and chest-rigs. However, since they are armed and equipped from IRGC garrisons, this can vary according to availability of equipment or what is 'on hand.'

Works Cited / Footnotes:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The 840th Missile Group

Google Earth / Libre-Office Draw
The Army Ground Force's (NEZAJA's) 840th Missile Group is based out of the city of Aran and Bidgol in the Isfahan province. As of November 2013, the group is commanded by Col. Mojtabi Moustafi Zadeh.[1] The group is sometimes referred to in the media as a 'rocket launcher group'.[2] These are simply variations in nomenclature and do not reflect the technical differences between unguided rockets and guided missiles.

Although it is the Army's only known missile group, other artillery groups have – in the past at least – included independent missile batteries alongside conventional artillery battalions. For example, during the Iran-Iraq war, the 44th Artillery Group was comprised of two tube-artillery battalions, an MLRS battalion, and one missile battery. [3]

The group's 'Shahid Moustafi Kabrai' garrison can be found approximately four kilometers north of the city. Google Earth provides coverage of the garrison from 09/2011, 03/2012 (partial coverage), and 10/2013. Bing supplements this with imagery from 01/2012.

Google Earth / Libre-Office Draw

The garrison has an atypical layout compared to other Army facilities, making it difficult to interpret.

Media reports indicate the existence of at least two “long-range missile battalions” – the 847th, and 848th – equipped with Zelzal, Nazeat, and Fajr-5 rocket-launchers; a third battalion is likely. These are supported by an air-defense battalion equipped with Zu-23-2s.[4] Additional support elements – such as CBW-units and light anti-tank units are organized at an unknown level, but are likely subordinate to the equivalent of a 'Headquarters and Headquarters Support Battery' along with communication and supply/maintenance support.

Exercise imagery from March 2013 confirm the use of Fajr-5s, and Nazeat 6/10s, as does overhead imagery from 10/2013. These are associated with TELs mounted on the Mercedes Benz 2626 as well as the newer Axor-series, which are only visible on overhead imagery, but which can be identified by the lack of a forward bonnet. The short Mercedes Benz 911 is another option, but cannot be positively identified.
Google Earth / Libre-Office Draw
Battalion support – containerized command, repair, communication and meterological cabins, as well as transloaders and personnel/equipment transport – are mounted on the same range of Mercedes platforms including the older cab-after-engine L-series (911, 1924, 2624) and newer  cab-over-engine Atego/Axor series. Lighter vehicles like the Safir Jeep are utilized as radio-carriers in addition to other likely roles.

Additional Imagery:
See Text /  Libre-Office Draw (Correction, top-right image, see comments)
See Text /  Libre-Office Draw

Works Cited / Footnotes:
[1] Title: NEZAJA Deputy: Competentcy is the criteria for the selection of Army commanders.
Date: November 25, 2013 / Azar 4, 1392.
Link: IRNA, Khorromabad
[2] Title: The Army is [for the] defense of the faithful and protection of the Islamic System.
Date: April 18, 2013 / Farvadin 29, 1392.
Link: IRNA, Esfahan
[3] Title: The role of the 44th Artillery Group in the Sacred Defense. Date: NA.
Link: AJA
[4] Title: On the Sidelines of Army Day in Aran va Bidgol. Date: April 2013/Farvadin 1392.
Link: Nasim Bidgol Blog

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Translation - What Is Soft War, and Ways of Confronting It

Title: What Is Soft War, and Ways of Confronting It 
Date: NA
Source: The Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran Webpage (AJA)

By 1945, the prevailing form of war was 'hard war'. After that, due to the world's bipolarity between the East and West blocs, a new cycle of competition began, which was known as the 'Cold War'. The Cold War was a combination of hard and soft war, in which those two super-powers avoided a direct confrontation.

With the end of the USSR and the Cold War in 1991, warfare-experts in US [built on their] experience in two world wars and realized that their political and economic goals could be achieved with a smaller cost and without direct involvement in other countries, which became known in the political literature as Soft War.

Soft War:
This type of war began and continued through the [Cold War with the] USSR and is based on soft-threats, cultural and social soft-power. America has already been successful in changing several political regimes in the world through the use of this type of war. The Color Revolutions in several East-Bloc countries are an example of soft war. America, through the use of soft-power, was successful in changing the political regimes in the countries of Poland, Georgia, the Czech Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Tajikistan. In all of these political transformations, the dominant political-regimes were de-legitimized without the use of violence and solely through soft-power, media tools, and by changing the country's values.

Soft war, in its different forms like the Velvet Revolution, the Color Revolutions (the Orange Revolution), psychological operations, media-warfare & tools (radio, TV, newspaper and so on), was able to change the political system in countries such as Ukraine and Georgia.

Defining Soft War:
The soft-war concept is the opposite of hard-war and does not have a single definition that is widely accepted.

John Collins, a theoretician at the National War College in America, considers soft-war: “the use of propaganda and related tools for the penetration/influence of an enemy's thought by appealing to ways that enhance national-security”.

The US Army defines it as: ...the precise use and design of propaganda and other actions for the primary purpose of influencing opinions, emotions, and behavior of an enemy, neutral , or friendly group in a way that is supportive of national objectives. The most famous definition is attributed to Joseph Nye, a prominent American researcher in the field of 'soft-power'. In 1990 he defined soft power in Foreign Policy Magazine as “the ability to shape the preferences of others”. The definition before that, [attributed] to Professor Hamid Mowlani in his 1986 book “Global Communications and Information; new frontiers in international relations”. However,the most important book in the soft-war field was released by Joseph Nye in 2004, under the title of “Soft Power; the means to success in world politics”.

Therefore, soft war can [be] any kind of social or media campaign in which the targeted population becomes passive and defeated without the use of force or coercion.

For many, soft-war is synonymous with military and political science. In military science, terms like 'psychological-war' or 'psychological-operations' are used, and in political science words like 'soft overthrow', 'soft threat', 'velvet revolution' and, more recently, 'color revolution' are used. In all of this terminology, the common goal is to impose the will of the group on the other group without the use of military means.

In the most complete definition, one can say that soft-war is a subversive and complex action composed of political, cultural, and information operations by the world's great powers for the creation of desired changes in the target countries.

Reasons for Soft War:
The famous article by Joseph Nye ... gave a new perspective in which the US, rather than use hard-power to launch a military coup-d-etat, focuses their efforts on changing the target countries by influencing their society.

Therefore, America could have, instead of investing billions of dollars in Star Wars, capitalized on Soviet society with a different way of thinking. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Joseph Nye published another article in 2004 for Foreign Policy under the title “The Use of Soft Power” that complements his previous [article] and is tailored to [the post-Soviet and post-9/11 world].

In the article, Joseph Nye proposed a perspective concerning [the use of] public diplomacy and the application of soft power to create changes in a target society. Later, his views became more complete and [included] instructions for the application of soft-power in American foreign policy. According to this theory, America uses public diplomacy and 'smart power' to help penetrate a target society. This perspective, which was prepared by American intelligence-experts such as Dr. Gene Sharp, became known as the 'soft revolution' concept in the mass media

Soft War, as one of the factors undermining national strength, resolve, ideals and polices of the political-system, could be the prelude to the collapse of the national political-security and structure. Joseph Nye considers soft power as an indirect way to achieve desired results without tangible threats or rewards. ... On this basis, a country can achieve their desired objectives in global politics because other countries will accept the [their] advanced ideals and are therefore willing to follow them. In this concept, leadership that others will follow is considered important. Therfore, soft war is the ability to obtain that which one wants through attraction, not through coercion or rewards (which shows the major difference between [it] and hard war)

Differences Between Soft and Hard War:

Differences between Hard and Soft War:

1) Soft threats are in the field of society, culture, and politics, whereas hard threats are in the security and military field.

2) Soft threats are complex and a product of elite-thinking, and are therefor difficult to measure, whereas hard threats are concrete, real, and tangible, and can be measured to some degree.

3) Hard threats are applied through the use of force and coercion, whereas soft threats are [applied] through the use of persuasion. [The objective of hard threats] is the occupation of land, whereas in soft threats, the objective is to influence elections and behavior, and to strip away cultural identity.

4) The concept of security in soft approaches includes value-security, identity-security, and community-security, whereas in hard approaches ... [unclear]

5) Hard threats are tangible and [therefore] provokes a response, whereas soft threats – due to their non-concrete nature – often lacks a response.

6) In the domain of hard threats, the main authority is the government, whereas in soft threats the environments are intra-national and trans-national.

7) The use of hard threats in the new security-environment is largely synonymous with the collapse of an opponent's political-security system, whereas the use of soft threats [are used] against an opponent's political system, or are synonymous with building cultures & institutions within the liberal-democratic context.

Soft war, like hard war, has various objectives, and, presumably, the ultimate objective of each is the complete change of the political-system of a country, which, of course, is accomplished through narrower objectives. In fact, soft-war and hard-war follow a common objective, which ... is to either apply pressure to change the behavior and identity of the system, or to change the system itself

Objectives of Soft War:

1) Cultural transformation, in order to have a severe effect on public opinion, targets and and controls [the population] through the means of news and information, which the 'hegemonic system' [aka the U.S] has always used for their purposes.

2) Political transformation, in order to show the ineffectiveness of the system, targets, destroys and slanders the pillars of the system.

3) Creation of fear around issues like poverty, war, or an oppressive foreign power, and then spreading rumors to create an atmosphere of mistrust and insecurity.

4) Divisions among the people and discord between the country's military and political leadership in order to [produce] the political disintegration of the country.

5) Promoting of a spirit of hopelessness rather than societal and emotional joy from the country's advances.

6) Youth indifferent to the country's important issues

7) Reducing the morale and efficiency among the military, and the creation of differences between different branches of military and security-[forces]

8) Creating differences in the country's [C2] systems

9) Black propaganda (with the objective of overthrow and chaos) through the use of rumors, spread of pornography, spread of night-letters [i.e. clandestine threats], etc

10) Strengthening religious, ethnic, political and social discontent with their government so that the country will disintegrate during these critical situations of discontent.

11) Efforts to portary the country's situation through incorrect and exagerated news and analysis.

Soft war requires tools and capabilities that … [unclear]

Tools of Soft War:

Soft War is undertaken with soft power. Therefore, all of the tools of soft power must be considered as tools of soft war. All of the tools that are transmitted have a specific objective. In the age of communication, we have a variety of tools for transmitting messages from one point to another. The tools [that are a part of] soft war include media, [such as] radio, TV, the press, areas of the arts including movies, theater, painting, graphics and music, a variety of NGOs and human-networks, are all among the tools of soft war.

Given that different tools are used in soft war, it can also be said that different groups are targeted.

What individuals and organizations are the target of soft war?

All of society can [play] a certain part in the launch of soft war. The social-classes desired by the soft-war-sponsors depends on their objective … [unclear] … but generally one can say that the groups targeted in soft war [include] the leadership, elites, and the popular-masses. Elites form the middle-forces and they can be considered the government decision-makers. Mentally confused intellectual-elites, like party-leaders etc, can transfer their fear to the population, terrorizing and breaking the national spirit.

In some cases, to achieve their goals, specific people and groups are targeted and used to achieve their [i.e the soft war sponsor's] objectives, like with the use of ethnicity, or elite-culture. Since soft war uses media, cultural, and academic tools, coverage of different groups [is generally emphasized].

Soft War Tactics:

[to be continued]