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Iran Gave Its Military Countless Battle Trucks

June 4, 2022
A convoy of Aras/Aras 1 trucks during an exercise. Via Iranian media.

After decades of failed and pointless efforts to develop indigenous armored vehicles a humble pickup truck is becoming a clear favorite for every military branch in the Islamic Republic. Back in the 2010s the original single cab Aras arrived on time to join Tehran’s epic campaigns across Syria and then Iraq where they helped equip various militias. With an appearance evoking the Agrale Marruá and the Land Rover Defender the Aras was further improved with the Aras 2 unveiled in mid-2019. To tell either model apart it’s best to check the bonnet or hood and spot a rectangular air intake on the Aras 2. Both remain in production and are being adapted as mobile weapon systems.

Although Iran’s military, which is separated between the historic armed forces and the IRGC and then the popular reservist pool (Basij), maintains a strong reliance on light trucks this is a a consequence of circumstance. Large numbers of Toyotas and locally made jeeps are needed to keep a precarious logistical system working. The same problem is apparent with extra-territorial militias that are trained abroad and inside Iran and are intermittently supplied with Aras/Aras 2 pickup trucks and other commercial vehicles. Since medium and heavy truck production in Iran is still catching up the twin Aras/Aras 2 models are filling the gaps in many surprising roles. By late 2021 a large-scale IRGC exercise in the country’s northwest featured Aras trucks with their largest armaments yet–the 20mm M197 three-barrel rotary cannon mounted on the nose of AH-1 Cobra helicopter gunships.

With pickup trucks repurposed as combat vehicles being so popular in the Middle East and North Africa the IRGC took this lesson to heart and embraced the an extremely lethal armament for their own favorite pickup truck. In its bizarre configuration the rotary cannon is wedged between two armor plates and has a basic sight for the gunner who operates the weapon manually. One possible reason why the M197 was chosen for the Aras, and maybe the Aras 2 soon, is its high rate of fire compared with a familiar heavy machine gun such as the DShK or the W85. Pictures have emerged of the Aras/Aras 2 with alternate weapons such as the Chinese-made LM2 14.5mm heavy machine gun–or its Iranian copy–and a unique .50 caliber gatling gun. Iran’s state-owned small arms factory boasts a whole catalog of gatling guns, from the basic 5.56mm to the four-barrel .50 caliber to the immense 20mm and 23mm options.

Whenever heavy machine guns are installed on an Aras/Aras 2 a platform is added to the bed for mounting the weapon station and this is sensible because it allows the operator to pivot the weapon station along a broader arc compared with the bed on a regular pickup truck. A M197 rotary cannon is also more compact than the Soviet vintage ZSU-23-2 whose size means the truck must be backed up or parked sideways for the weapon to be properly aimed at ground targets. (The ZSU-23-2 and five other kinds of anti-aircraft guns are manufactured in Iran too.) With the M197, on the other hand, the operator does enjoy a 360 degree field of fire never mind if the rest of the vehicle has no ballistic protection. The regular army and the IRGC do have mine-resistant trucks in their inventories but these aren’t assembled in the same volumes as the Aras/Aras 2.

There are no reliable figures for how many Aras/Aras 2 trucks are in service but its safe to assume, given the evidence collected these last three years since the Aras 2 came out, that several hundred are equipped for combat roles whether as mobile artillery or long-range transports with their own armaments. To date 14 variants of Aras/Aras 2 trucks with weapons are known and the most sophisticated are the mobile SHORADS like the Misagh. The Aras/Aras 2 joins an even larger fleet of Safir jeeps, which also carry different weapons such as multiple rocket launchers and recoilless rifles, that keep Iran’s military formations combat ready in a volatile neighborhood.

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