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Iranian Artillery Is Diverse And Plentiful

December 28, 2021
Via Iranian media.

The past year was a busy one for Iran’s military branches as large-scale exercises took place on a monthly basis. This is a noticeable departure from two decades of poor interoperability between Sepah, also known as the IRGC, and the Artesh or regular armed forces. This November brought together Iran’s operational reach for air, land, and sea combat in a southern coastal province as a follow up to the live fire drills in the north that tested various missile defenses. The publicity surrounding the exercises dubbed Zolfaghar 1400 held in November brought an elusive weapon system to light–the GHN/GC-45 towed howitzers of the ground forces.

The GC-45 and its derivatives from China and South Africa originate from the late Dr. Gerard Bull’s research and engineering on artillery gun barrels. Although no longer in production–its Austrian manufacturer has since closed shop–the GC-45 endures with the Artesh who are suspected of operating up to 200 of these towed howitzers. A GC-45 is recognizable for its elongated barrel topped by a muzzle brake with three large baffles or ribs; the gun system rests on a large carriage with four wheels and two additional wheels at the ends of its separable trails. When loaded with extended range 155mm ammunition the GC-45 is able to hit targets 40 kilometers away. Iran’s state-owned Defense Industries Organization (DIO) manufactures artillery rounds of many calibers including extended range and laser-guided shells. The GC-45 was cutting edge in the 1970s but China and India have since rolled out superior artillery systems for whoever can afford them.

Historical circumstances gave the Artesh and the IRGC the largest stockpile of functional artillery in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region today. (Ignoring the artillery in service with neighbors such as India, Pakistan, and Russia.) The “Imposed War,” better known as the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1989), forced the vulnerable Islamic regime to import large quantities of Chinese and North Korean 130mm howitzers, specifically the Type 59-1 that remains in service. The DIO’s industrial portfolio eventually grew to include the manufacture of D-30 122mm howitzers and the Type 59-1 130mm howitzers. There’s evidence some of these have reached Iran’s proxies in Iraq. It appears the DIO either licensed or reverse engineered the South Korean KH179 155mm howitzer that were acquired in small numbers in the 1980s. The result is the HM41 that the IRGC have used in combat on many occasions. Other types of artillery manufactured by the DIO are anti-aircraft guns, naval guns, and recoilless rifles. Iranian mortars in five calibers are over-abundant thanks to constant adaptation for new roles.

Since the militaries of Iraq and Syria have crumbled Iran’s Artesh and the IRGC enjoy a regional advantage with their total manpower and weaponry. It’s not until the Egyptian armed forces are drawn in for comparison that the Iranian military’s numbers are dwarfed. When the US’ Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published an assessment of Iran’s military strength in 2019 its figures on the Artesh’ conventional weapons were drawn from the Global Firepower Index. If the sourcing is to believed Iran’s ground forces have as many as 2,900 artillery pieces at its disposal and 2,000 pieces of rocket artillery. The rocket artillery, by the way, are so plentiful thanks to the mass-production of cheap 107mm and 122mm rockets as well as other short-range calibers.

When it comes to self-propelled artillery, however, the numbers are limited but the types are varied. The Artesh keep their US-supplied M107, M109, and M110 self-propelled howitzers functional. The IRGC, on the other hand, are the only known operators of the North Korean Koksan that mounts a 170mm gun on a medium tank. It was later found out the UAE also acquired Koksans after Iran did but the Emiratis kept this a closely guarded secret. The Iranian ground forces have Soviet vintage Gvozdika and Akatsiya self-propelled howitzers too. Domestic efforts at assembling self-propelled howitzers had limited success and the DIO has at least one facility for putting together M109 155mm self-propelled howitzers from scratch to replace any losses in the original fleet. In the 2010s efforts to introduce a domestic truck mounted howitzer combining the HM41 and a 6×6 transporter began and this project seems to be ongoing. There have been attempts to mount 122mm and 130mm howitzers on armored trucks. When these prove successful the Artesh and the IRGC are left better equipped for conventional war in Central Asia and the greater Middle East.

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