With the Iranian revolution in 1979, deteriorating relations with the United States of America resulted in international sanctions led by the USA, including an arms embargo being imposed on Iran.
Revolutionary Iran was taken by surprise, by the Iraqi invasion that began the Iran–Iraq War of 1980–1988. During this conflict, there were several confrontations with the United States. From 1987, the United States Central Command sought to stop Iranian mine-laying vessels from blocking the international sea lanes through the Persian Gulf in Operation Prime Chance. The operation lasted until 1989. On April 18, 1988, the U.S. retaliated for the Iranian mining of the USS Samuel B. Roberts in Operation Praying Mantis. Simultaneously, the Iranian armed forces had to learn to maintain and keep operational, their large stocks of U.S.-built equipment and weaponry without outside help, due to the American-led sanctions. Reaching back on equipment purchased from the U.S.A. in the 1970s, Iran began establishing its own armaments industry; its efforts in this remained largely unrecognised internationally, until recently. However, Iran was able to obtain limited amounts of American-made armaments, when it was able to buy American spare parts and weaponry for its armed forces, during the Iran-Contra affair. At first, deliveries came via Israel and later, from the USA.
The Iranian government established a five-year rearmament program in 1989 to replace worn-out weaponry from the Iran-Iraq war. Iran spent $10 billion between 1989 and 1992 on arms. Iran ordered weapons designed to prevent other states' naval vessels from accessing the sea, including marines and long-range Soviet planes capable of attacking aircraft carriers.
A former military-associated police force, the Iranian Gendarmerie, was merged with the National Police (Sharbani) and Revolutionary Committees in 1990.
In 1991, the Iranian armed forces received a number of Iraqi military aircraft being evacuated from the Persian Gulf War of that year; most of which were incorporated into the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.
From 2003, there have been repeated U.S. and British allegations that Iranian forces have been covertly involved in the Iraq War. In 2004, Iranian armed forces took Royal Navy personnel prisoner, on the Shatt al-Arab (Arvand Rud in Persian) river, between Iran and Iraq. They were released three days later following diplomatic discussions between the UK and Iran.
In 2007, Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces also took prisoner Royal Navy personnel when a boarding party from HMS Cornwall was seized in the waters between Iran and Iraq, in the Persian Gulf. They were released thirteen days later.
According to Juan Cole, Iran has never launched an "aggressive war" in modern history, and its leadership adheres to a doctrine of "no first strike". The country's military budget is the lowest per capita in the Persian Gulf region besides the UAE.
Since 1979, there have been no foreign military bases present in Iran. According to Article 146 of the Iranian Constitution, the establishment of any foreign military base in the country is forbidden, even for peaceful purposes.
On 4 December 2011, an American RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was captured by Iranian forces near the city of Kashmar in northeastern Iran.
In 2012, it was announced that Iran's Quds Force is operating inside Syria providing the government of Bashar al-Assad with intelligence and direction against rebel opposition. There is an emphasis on the monitoring of protesters' use of the internet and mobile phone networks, including text messaging.
In December 2012, Iran stated it had captured an American ScanEagle UAV that violated its airspace over the Persian Gulf. Iran later stated it had also captured two other ScanEagles.
In November 2015, Iranian special forces rescued a Russian pilot that was shot down by Turkey, over Syria. The force involved was made up of men from the Lebanese “Hezbollah” and soldiers from the Syrian special forces, who had undergone special training under the guidance of Iranian instructors. Apart from this fact, the Syrian soldiers were familiar with the terrain. The general assumed command of the ground operation and Russian aircraft had to carry out air cover and enable satellite surveillance. Once the location of the Russian pilot was determined via satellite through the built-in GPS device, it became clear that the pilot was located six kilometers behind the front line between the Syrian army forces and the opposition forces. The Special squad that entered the territory controlled by militants was not only able to save the Russian pilot, but also destroy all of the remaining terrorists there who had the most modern weapons in their possession. All of the 24 fighters not only survived, but also returned to their base without injuries.
In April 2016, Iran sent advisors from the 65th Airborne Special Forces Brigade to Syria in support of the government.
In 2016, Revolutionary Guard forces captured U.S. Navy personnel when their boats entered Iranian territorial waters off the coast of Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf. They were released the next day following diplomatic discussions between the U.S. and Iran.Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic, in Persian: فرمانده کل قوا, translit. fa)
Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan (سرتیپ پاسدار حسین دهقان) (Minister of Defence)
Major General Mohammad Bagheri (سرلشکر محمد باقری) (Commanding General of the Armed Forces General Command Headquarters, in Persian: رئیس ستاد کل نیروهای مسلح)
Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi (سردار سرلشکر یحیی رحیم صفوی) (Senior Military Advisor to the Leader of the Islamic Revolution)
Islamic Republic of Iran Army
Major General Ataollah Salehi (امیر سرلشکر عطاءالله صالحی)(Commander-in-Chief of the Army, in Persian: فرمانده کل ارتش)
Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani (امیر سرتیپ محمدرضا قرایی آشتیانی) (Deputy Commander in Chief of the Army)
Brigadier General Abdolrahim Mousavi (امیر سرتیپ عبدالرحیم موسوی) (Chief of the Army Joint Headquarters)
Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan (امیر سرتیپ احمدرضا پوردستان) (Commander of the Army Ground Forces)
Brigadier General Hassan Shahsafi (امیر سرتیپ حسن شاهصفی) (Commander of the Air Force)
Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili (امیر سرتیپ فرزاد اسماعیلی) (Commander of Air Defense Forces)
Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari (امیر دریادار حبیبالله سیاری) (Commander of the Navy)
Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari (سردار سرلشکر محمدعلی جعفری)(Commander-in-Chief of the IRGC, in Persian: فرمانده کل سپاه پاسداران)
Brigadier General Hossein Salami (سردار سرتیپ پاسدار حسین سلامی) (Commander of the IRGC Air Force)
Brigadier General Mohammad Pakvar (سردار سرتیپ پاسدار محمد پاکپور) (Commander of IRGC Ground Forces)
Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh (سردار سرتیپ پاسدار امیرعلی حاجیزاده) (Commander of the IRGC Aerospace Forces)
Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi (سردار دريادار پاسدار علی فدوی) (Commander of IRGC Navy)
Major General Qasem Soleimani (سردار سرلشکر پاسدار قاسم سلیمانی) (Commander of Quds Force)
Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi (سردار سرتیپ پاسدار محمدرضا نقدی) (Commander of the Basij forces)
Law Enforcement Force
Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari (سردار سرتیپ پاسدار حسین اشتری) (Commander-in-Chief of the Law Enforcement Force, in Persian: فرمانده کل نیروی انتظامی)
The Iranian armed forces consist of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Defense Force. The regular armed forces have an estimated 425,000 personnel: the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, 350,000 personnel; the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, 18,000 personnel, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, 52,000 airmen. The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Defense Force is a branch split off from the IRIAF.
The Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, or Revolutionary Guards, has an estimated 120,000 personnel in five branches: Its own Navy, Aerospace Force, and Ground Forces; and the Quds Force (special forces).
The Basij is a paramilitary volunteer force controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Its membership is a matter of controversy. Iranian sources claim a membership of 12.6 million, including women, of which perhaps 3 million are combat capable. There are a claimed 2,500 battalions of which some are composed of full-time personnel. GlobalSecurity.org quotes a 2005 study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimating 90,000 active-duty full-time uniformed members, 300,000 reservists, and a total of 11 million men that can be mobilised if need be .
It has been reported that Iran is one of the five countries that has a cyber-army capable of conducting cyber-warfare operations. It has also been reported that Iran has immensely increased its cyberwarfare capability since the post presidential election un-rest. Furthermore, China has accused the United States of having initiated a cyber war against Iran, through websites such as Twitter and YouTube and employing a hacker brigade for the purpose of fomenting unrest in Iran. It has also been reported in early 2010, that two new garrisons for cyberwarfare have been established at Zanjan and Isfahan.
Iran's 2007 defense budget was estimated to be $11.096 billion by SIPRI (2.5% of GDP). Per capita or percentage of GDP, this was a lower figure than for other Persian Gulf states.
Under the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran's military industry was limited to assembly of foreign weapons. In the assembly lines that were put up by American firms, such as Bell, Litton and Northrop, Iranian workers put together a variety of helicopters, aircraft, guided missiles, electronic components and tanks. In 1973 the Iran Electronics Industries (IEI) was established. The company was set up in a first attempt to organize the assembly and repair of foreign-delivered weapons. The Iranian Defense Industries Organization was the first to succeed in taking a step into what could be called a military industry by reverse engineering Soviet RPG-7, BM-21, and SAM-7 missiles in 1979.
Nevertheless, most of Iran's weapons before the Islamic revolution were imported from the United States and Europe. Between 1971 and 1975, the Shah went on a buying spree, ordering $8 billion in weapons from the United States alone. This alarmed the United States Congress, which strengthened a 1968 law on arms exports in 1976 and renamed it the Arms Export Control Act. Still, the United States continued to sell large amounts of weapons to Iran until the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
After the Islamic revolution, Iran found itself severely isolated and lacking technological expertise. Because of economic sanctions and a weapons embargo put on Iran by the United States, it was forced to rely on its domestic arms industry for weapons and spare parts, since there were very few countries willing to do business with Iran.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards were put in charge of creating what is today known as the Iranian military industry. Under their command, Iran's military industry was enormously expanded, and with the Ministry of Defense pouring investment into the missile industry, Iran soon accumulated a vast arsenal of missiles. Since 1992, it also claiming has produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, radar systems, guided missiles, marines, military vessels and fighter planes. Iran is also producing its own submarines.
In recent years, official announcements have highlighted the development of weapons such as the Fajr-3 (MIRV), Hoot, Kowsar, Fateh-110, Shahab-3 missile systems and a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles, at least one of which Israel claims has been used to spy on its territory. In 2006, an Iranian UAV acquired and allegedly tracked the American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan for 25 minutes without being detected, before returning safely to its base.
On November 2, 2012, Iran's Brigadier General Hassan Seifi reported that the Iranian Army had achieved self-suffiency in producing military equipment, and that the abilities of Iranian scientists have enabled the country to make significant progress in this field. He was quoted saying, Unlike Western countries which hide their new weapons and munitions from all, the Islamic Republic of Iran's Army is not afraid of displaying its latest military achievements and all countries must become aware of Iran's progress in producing weaponry."
Iran has produced several domestically developed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which can be used for reconnaissance and combat operations. Iran has also claimed to have downed, captured and later reverse-engineered US and Israeli drones, a claim military experts doubt.
On November 2, 2006, Iran fired unarmed missiles to begin 10 days of military simulations. Iranian state television reported "dozens of missiles were fired including Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles. The missiles had ranges from 300 km to up to 2,000 km. Iranian experts have made some changes to Shahab-3 missiles installing cluster warheads in them with the capacity to carry 1,400 bombs." These launches came after some United States-led military exercises in the Persian Gulf on October 30, 2006, meant to train for blocking the transport of weapons of mass destruction.
Iran is also believed to have started the development of an ICBM/IRBM missile project, known as Ghadr-110 with a range of 3000 km; the program is believed to be a parallel of the advancement of a satellite launcher named IRIS. Iran also dedicated underground ballistic missile programs
Iran ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997. Iranian troops and civilians suffered tens of thousands of casualties from Iraqi chemical weapons during the 1980-88 Iran–Iraq War. As a result, Iran has publicly stood against the use of chemical weapons, making numerous negative comments in international forums against Iraq's use of such weapons.
Even today, more than twenty-four years after the end of the Iran–Iraq War, about 30,000 Iranians are still suffering and dying from the effects of chemical weapons employed by Iraq during the war. The need to manage the treatment of such a large number of casualties has placed Iran’s medical specialists in the forefront of the development of effective treatment regimens for chemical weapons victims, and particularly for those suffering from exposure to mustard gas.
Iran ratified the Biological Weapons Convention in 1973. Iran has advanced biological and genetic engineering research programs supporting an industry that produces vaccines for both domestic use and export.
In 2013, Iran was reported to supply money, equipment, technological expertise and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to Syria's Government and Lebanon's Hezbollah during the Syrian civil war, and to the Iraqi government, Iraqi Shia militia, and Peshmerga during War on ISIL.
The Iranian Government makes a show of military force on Islamic Republic of Iran Army Day with parades every 18 April, often demonstrating new defense technologies.
The former Supreme leader of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini named 18 April as Army Day, calling for military parades to exhibit the nation's military preparedness. The Iranian armed forces honor the country's National Army Day by annually parading in many cities of Iran every 18th day of April. The biggest march is held in front of the mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini.