With international attention overwhelmingly focused on Iran's nuclear program and its ultimate objectives, the country's conventional weapons capability often goes unexamined. In an e-mail interview, Anoush Ehteshami, professor of international relations at Durham University's School of Government and International Affairs, discusses Iran's conventional weapons capability.
WPR: What conventional weapons capability does Iran currently have, and how much does it devote to defense spending?
Anoush Ehteshami: Iran's conventional weapons capability has gone through a revolution since 1979 and the subsequent severance of ties with the U.S. and other Western militaries. The eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war had the most direct impact, in terms of depleting Iran's Western-supplied armory and forcing the country to look eastward for new supplies. From the mid-1980s onward Iran has been re-arming itself with advanced and basic weapons systems supplied by Soviet Union/Russia, China, and North Korea. It has purchased three Kilo-class submarines from the USSR/Russia, naval vessels and anti-ship missiles from China, and missile technology from China and North Korea. Ironically, 30 years on, the U.S.-supplied airframes (F-5, F-4 and F-14) remain central to the country's air force, despite purchases of MiG-29s and SU-25s from the USSR/Russia. Iran's ground forces still deploy some 100 British-supplied Chieftain main battle tanks (MBTs). The country's annual defense budget now stands at around $9.5 billion, having increased from an average of $5 billion per year mid-decade. Currently, it is capable of deploying more than 1,500 MBTs, some 300 combat aircraft (with around 160 U.S.-supplied fighters), about four U.K.-made Vosper-type frigates, thousands of pieces of artillery, and hundreds of surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs).