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The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Have New Rifles

December 27, 2018

Via Mehr News/M. Khodabakhsh.

This month thousands of IRGC personnel took part in the Great Prophet 12 (GP 12) exercises lasting from December 15 until 22. These large-scale drills in and around Qeshm Island received an uncommon amount of coverage from Iranian state media. Although the Revolutionary Guard made sure to emphasize the “defensive” nature of its activities, the GP 12 still served as an advertisement for the organization recognized as the Islamic Republic’s chosen elite.

Another crucial detail from GP 12 is the equipment of the IRGC troops who participated. Photos from Iranian media show them carrying new assault rifles unlike the locally produced Kalashnikov known as the “KL.” It seems the Guards have switched their standard issue rifle for the AK-103, an updated design of the ubiquitous Soviet AKM.

Revolutionary Guard infantry at Great Prophet 12. Each of their weapons are manufactured in Iran. Via Mehr News/M. Khodabakhsh.

The AK-103 is recognizable for its all black finish and the cylindrical muzzle brake on its barrel assembly. Although it resembles the Russian military’s favorite AK-74/74M, the AK-103 uses the same magazine as the AKM that carries 30 7.62x39mm rounds. Other features are a side folding polymer stock and rail mounts on its handguards. Iran is a loyal customer of Russian-made weaponry for the past three decades. In 2016 it was announced a large quantity of AK-103’s were ordered from Rosoboronexport. This particular arms deal may have included provisions for manufacturing the rifle in state-owned factories run by Iran’s Defense Industries Organization (DIO).

Since 2016, Iranian copies of the AK-103 have already been shown at Tehran’s largest security exhibition alongside other small arms. Iran’s Kalashnikov-pattern rifles are based on the Chinese Type 56 but don’t have the folding bayonet under the barrel assembly. The IRGC’s adoption of the new AK-103’s (or their local copies) is a marked improvement over its older Kalashnikov models collected from several countries.

The AK-103 is an extremely successful current-generation assault rifle. Some of its biggest customers are Venezuela’s military and Indonesian police. Copies are also manufactured in Azerbaijan and Vietnam.

The GP 12 exercises this month showed how far the IRGC have evolved from a “citizen’s army” to a sophisticated organization with impressive firepower. GP 12 involved a mock amphibious landing and an airborne component with special forces inserted via helicopter. Other capabilities included drone flights and shore-based defenses. The coverage of GP 12 revealed how many weapons are available to IRGC troops. In a mechanized unit, for example, each squad has a marksman with an SVD rifle, a machine gunner with a PKM, and at least one infantryman with an RPG-7. It’s unclear whether snipers with anti-material rifles are organic to each IRGC mechanized infantry unit. IRGC troops have shoulder-launched SAMs at their disposal too.

The portable heavy weapons deployed by the IRGC are the locally produced variant of the DShK 12.7mm heavy machine gun, 60mm and 81mm mortars, and 107mm rocket artillery. Unseen at GP 12 were anti-tank weapons such as the Dehlavieh, which is an Iranian copy of the Kornet missile launcher, and old favorites like 73mm and 105mm recoilless rifles.

The IRGC represent more than half of Iran’s military strength and have direct control over the country’s ballistic missile program. Its size exceeds 100,000 personnel supported by air, naval, and special forces units. Even its annual budget is suspected of being many times larger than the regular military, the Artesh, and if the Guards have switched to the new AK-103 rifles they’re now among its largest users in the world.

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