Iran Table of Contents
Armed forces manpower increased substantially throughout the 1970s as the shah implemented Iran's "guardian" role in the Gulf. Following the outbreak of the Revolution, there was a sharp drop in the number of military personnel, which in 1982 stood at 235,000, including the Pasdaran but excluding reserves. In contrast, total military personnel, including the Pasdaran but excluding reserves, stood at 704,500 in 1986. In addition to active-duty personnel, some 400,000 veterans, organized in reserve units after the outbreak of the war, were subject to recall to duty. Two-thirds of army personnel were conscripts; in the air force and navy, the majority were volunteers.
The National Military Academy was the largest single source of commissioned officers in the 1970s, but since 1980 a significant number of commissions have been awarded for wartime heroism and leadership at the front. Although air force and navy officers had attended military academies or participated in cadet programs in the United States, Britain, or Italy before 1979, few foreign contacts have been recorded since the Revolution. In the few instances in which contact was established, it was with Asian states, namely China and North Korea. Unlike the army, the air force and navy have experienced high attrition, and it must be assumed that operations have been streamlined to be effective with fewer personnel.
Class differences in the armed forces remained virtually undisturbed by the Revolution. Commissioned officers came from upper class families, career noncommissioned and warrant officers from the urban middle class, and conscripts from lower class backgrounds. By 1986, an increasing segment of the officer corps came from the educated middle class, and a significant number of lower middle-class personnel were commissioned by Khomeini for leadership on the battlefield.
Iran's 1986 population of approximately 48.2 million (including approximately 2.6 million refugees) gave the armed forces a large pool from which to fill its manpower needs, despite the existence of rival irregular forces. Of about 8 million males between the ages of eighteen and fourty-five, nearly 6 million were considered physically and mentally fit for military service. Revolutionary leaders have repeatedly declared that Iran could establish an army of 20 million to defend the country against foreign aggression. Since the beginning of 1986, women have also been encouraged to receive military training, although no women were actually serving in the regular armed forces as of late 1987. The decision to encourage women to join in the military effort may indicate an increasing demand for personnel or an effort to gain increased popular support for the Revolution. It could also mean that conscription was not replacing war losses or retirements.
Compulsory conscription has been in effect since 1926, when Reza Shah's Military Service Act was passed by the Majlis. All males must register at age nineteen and begin their military service at age twenty-one; the law, however, is of limited significance in view of government pressures for volunteer enlistments in military units at an earlier age. According to the act, the total period of service is twenty-five years, divided as follows: two years of active military service, six years in standby military service for draftees, then eight years in first-stage reserve and nine years in second-stage reserve. In 1984 the Majlis passed the new Military Act. It amended conscription laws to reduce the high number of draft dodgers. Newspapers have carried reports of people caught trying to buy their way out of military service, at an unofficial figure of about US$8,000 for forged exemption documents. Under the prerevolutionary law, temporary or permanent exemptions were provided for the physically disabled, hardship cases, convicted felons, students, and certain professions. Draft evaders were subject to arrest, trial before a military court, and imprisonment for a maximum of two years after serving the required two years of active duty. Few draft dodgers, if any, were sent to jail; the normal procedure was to fine them the equivalent of US$75 (1986 exchange rate). Under the 1984 law, draft evaders were subject to restrictions for a period of up to ten years. They could be prevented from holding a driver's license, running for elective office, registering property ownership, being put on the government payroll, or receiving a passport, in addition to being forced to pay fines and/or receive jail sentences. Exemptions were given only to solve family problems. Moreover, all exemptions, except for physical disabilities, were only for five years. Those seeking relief for medical reasons had to serve but were not sent on combat duty. Under the amended law, men of draft age were subject to conscription, whether in war or peace, for a minimum period of two years and could be recalled as needed.
In the past, a consistent weakness of the armed forces had been the high illiteracy rate among conscripts and volunteers. This reflected the country wide illiteracy rate, which stood at 60 percent in 1979. Compounding this dilemma, many conscripts came from tribal areas where Persian was not spoken. Thus, the military first had to teach the conscripts Persian by instituting extensive literacy training programs.
By 1986 the country's overall literacy rate was estimated at 50 percent, a dramatic improvement. This gain was also reflected in the regular armed forces. Of the three services, the air force fared best in this respect, as it had always done. Yet even the air force, which had developed training facilities for support personnel and homafars, was short of its real requirements. With the 1979 withdrawal of foreign military and civilian advisers, particularly from the United States and Pakistan, the operation, maintenance, and logistical functioning of armed forces' equipment was hampered by a critical shortage of skilled manpower. As purchases from non-Western countries increased, Iran came to rely on Chinese, Syrian, Bulgarian (unconfirmed), and North Korean instructors and those from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), among others.
In 1987 the impressive progress of the regular armed forces was counterbalanced by manpower shortages. Without the support of large numbers of irregular forces and volunteers, it was difficult to foresee how this shortage might be overcome.
Data as of December 1987
Iran Table of Contents