Iraqi Army beefs up armored forces
Iraqi Army T-72 tanks and an M113.
The Iraqi government's announcement it will spend nearly $11 billion on weapons systems highlights its desire to upgrade the capabilities of the Iraqi armed forces from a primarily counterinsurgency force to a military capable of protecting its own borders from outside threats. Included in the purchase are 24 light attack helicopters, mortar systems, six C-130 transports, various support vehicles, 392 Light Armored Vehicles, and above all else, 140 M1A1 Abrams tanks. The initial purchase of the Abrams tanks indicates the Iraqi Army is starting to transform from a light motorized force into a mixed force with armored, mechanized, and cavalry divisions capable of countering the Iranian and Syrian armies.
In the distribution of armor in the Iraqi Army, indications of future developments can be seen. These include the future distribution of armored battalions, the type and mix of heavy divisions (armored, mechanized, or armored cavalry), and the probable planned sequence of upgrades.
For reasons of common vehicle mobility, it is normal to have all tracked or all wheeled combat vehicles at battalion level. The Iraqi Army has most of its tracked elements concentrated in the 9th Division. The exceptions and the changes in the 9th point to the 434 Iraqi BMP1 Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicles being exclusively intended for use as the mechanized component in armored battalions. These choices provide insight as to future armored organization and distribution.
BMP1s are a cross between a light tank and an armored personnel carrier. Pending receipt of tanks, these BMP1s are being employed as tanks. This also has the benefit of training future tanker cadre. If you look at the BMP1 equipped battalions as the mechanized cadre for future armored battalions, then their distribution identifies some of the future heavy divisions. The same can be said for the distribution of other tracked vehicles like the M113 armored personnel carrier.
The standard equipment of an Iraqi armored battalion is 35 tanks and nine BMP1s. For the interim, additional BMP1s are being employed in the place of tanks in 9th Division, but that will change as more real tanks arrive. In the meantime, BMP1-equipped battalions are the field training formations for the future tank battalions. When they get tanks, they will split off a company of BMP1s per tank battalion to act as the armored battalion's mechanized cadre. There are four future armored battalions per current BMP1-equipped battalion.
The current inventory of 434 BMP1s in the Iraqi Army is enough to provide the mechanized cadre for 48 armored battalions. However, the Iraqi Army will probably take delivery of the remaining BMP1s being disposed of by the Hellenic Army. That would provide the Iraqi Army with enough BMP1s for the mechanized component of approximately 60 armored battalions.
When the replacement tanks and additional armored personnel carriers arrive, the allocation of tracked vehicles to the divisions will change. The 9th Armored Division has already started fielding new M113-equipped battalions, probably to replace its BMP1-equipped battalions for redistribution, and is projected to get T72 tanks later this year. Pending those replacements, the majority of tracked vehicles are currently in the 9th Division. The few exceptions are:
• One battalion of BMP1s plus a mixed battalion of MTLBs/wheeled ILAV in 11th Division.
• Two battalions of BMP1s in 7th Division.
• Undetermined number of M113s in 3rd Division.
• Undetermined number of M113s probably still in 5th Division.
The 3rd Division is using M113s for engineering route clearance work. The MTLBs (and ILAV) in 11th Division are also used for combat engineers and Explosive Ordnance Disposal. The 5th Division's salvaged M113s have not been seen for over a year and may have been transferred or taken out of service. The presence of tracked armor in these divisions indicates that they are planned to be heavy divisions. The numbers of BMP1s indicate how many armored battalions are planned for two of those divisions. The redistribution of BMP1s from 9th Division as it replaces them with tanks and M113s will further identify the allocation of armored battalions to future heavy Iraqi Army elements.
• The 11th Division is furthest along with a mix of tracked and wheeled engineering route clearance vehicles and a battalion of BMP1s. The BMP1-equipped battalion indicates it is planned to have four armored battalions in the future. That distribution fits with the purchase of 140 M1A1M tanks from the US. Combined with the purchase of LAVs, the 11th appears to be planned as an armored cavalry division with four brigades, each equipped with a tank battalion of 35 M1A1Ms and nine BMP1s plus two battalions equipped with 40-45 LAVs each. 11th Armored Cavalry Division.
• The 7th Division is next in sequence to become a heavy division. The 7th has two battalions of BMP1s, indicating it is planned to be an armored division. 7th Armored Division.
• The 3rd Division is also planned to be a heavy division. The M113s being used for route-clearance indicate this planned conversion. There are not enough data to determine which type of heavy division at this stage. This is a traditional armored division in the Iraqi Army.
• The 5th Division probably will be heavy. Although the salvaged M113s previously reported in the 5th may have been redistributed, the 5th's assigned area is strategic. This is a traditional mechanized division in the Iraqi Army.
• A corps subordinate armored or cavalry brigade for each of the four corps is also planned. These are likely to have one or two armored battalions, but could be light armor instead.
The further redistribution of 9th Armored Division's excess BMP1s will indicate the remaining divisions planned to convert and what type of divisions they will be. A cavalry division gets four armored battalions, while a mechanized division will receive five armored battalions, and an armored division will receive seven armored battalions. With the BMP1 component indicating the total number of planned armored battalions to be 60, the following are already accounted for:
• 9th Armored Division: Seven armored battalions.
• 11th Cavalry Division: Four armored battalions.
• 7th Armored Division: Seven armored battalions.
• Corps independent brigades: Zero, four, or eight armored battalions.
• Total accounted for so far: 18-26 of 60 projected armored battalions.
Heavy divisions normally have self-propelled indirect fires elements. The recently announced planned mortar purchase does not include self-propelled and account for only seven divisions of the Iraqi Army's requirements. There are 16 divisions in the Iraqi army formed, transferred, or forming. That leaves nine divisions to be equipped, with self-propelled fires elements. This fits with the projected nine heavy divisions otherwise indicated.
Only one cavalry and two armored divisions are clearly indicated at this time. The remaining mix of armored, mechanized, and cavalry divisions is not clear. The independent corps subordinate brigades will most likely include an armored brigade. Using 60 armored battalions as the basis, postulating independent armored brigades, and discounting four battalions for training establishment, the probable mixes include (in order of probability):
• One cavalry, two armored, and six mechanized divisions, plus four corps subordinate armored brigades.
• Three cavalry, three armored, and three mechanized divisions, plus four corps subordinate armored brigades.
• Five cavalry and four armored divisions, plus four corps subordinate armored brigades.
It is possible that the four corps subordinate brigades will be armored cavalry instead of armored. This increases the number of probable armored divisions in the mix. These then becomes the indicated options (order of probability):
• One cavalry, four armored, and four mechanized divisions, plus four corps subordinate armored cavalry brigades.
• Three cavalry, five armored, and one mechanized division, plus four corps subordinate armored cavalry brigades.
In the unlikely event that the corps subordinate brigades are not equipped with tracked armored or armored cavalry battalions, these then become the indicated options (order of probability):
• One cavalry, six armored, and two mechanized divisions.
• Three cavalry and six armored divisions.
The planned replacement and disposal of 6,000 US M113s will probably facilitate this expansion. M113s are used for mortar carriers, ambulances, tracked logistics, as well as armored personnel carriers and, despite the claims to the contrary, are proven assets in 60 of the world's armies.
Addendum on Georgia. This projection of Iraqi armor was drafted prior to the Russian invasion of Georgia. The effects of that invasion are yet to be determined. One probable effect will be the delay of Iraqi Army's ability to field additional armored battalions. Most NATO countries were reducing their armor components and they are likely to review that policy in light of a resurgent Russia and the previous Russian moratorium on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. This will have the effect of reducing the availability of surplus armor from Europe. Iraq will be paying more for what used armor is available and will have to buy more new armor.