Iraqi Army develops its light armored forces
The Iraqi Government has been ordering substantial numbers of weapons this year. These orders, combined with known training plans, and existing force structure, provide insight into the eventual planned force structure of elements of the Iraqi Security Forces. The Air Force and Iraqi Army light infantry forces have been previously addressed. The focus of this article is on the announced arms purchases and what they indicate for developments in the Iraqi Security Force's light armored forces.
The three stages of upgrading the Iraqi Security Forces are organized into five year plans. The first stage started with the establishment of the first elected Iraqi Government in 2006 and it lasts until 2011. Stage one is intended to build a basic force. The Iraqi Army is apparently planned to be 20 to 21 divisions organized into four corps by the end of this stage.
The second stage is to build the forces up in capabilities including independent armored, mechanized, airmobile, naval, and air forces, thus converting the existing basic force into a heavier, more capable force. Stage two lasts from 2011 to 2015. The arms purchases for the beginning of stage two have been and are being announced.
The third stage is to complete the training and improvements. Stage three should be thought of as the insurance period for any slippage in training and developing the ISF, such as that caused by a reduced budget due to lower oil prices.
The announced purchase of LAV-25 light armored reconnaissance vehicals matches the LAV component of four brigades based on the organization of the Iraqi Army's 37th Light Mechanized Brigade. The 37th Brigade operates 98 BTR-80 armored personnel carriers and 35 EE-9 90mm gun armed armored scout cars. The BTR-80s are reportedly under-armed for their role, which explains the LAV-25 purchases.
The LAV-25 is an eight-wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicle based on the same hull as the Stryker family of vehicles. Both the LAV-25 and Stryker are based on the same Mowag Piranha Armored Personnel Carrier hull. Unlike the Stryker reconnaissance version, the LAV-25 is more heavily armed. The LAV-25 has a turreted 25mm chain gun where the Stryker Reconnaissance variant, like the under-armed BTR-80, is equipped with only a heavy machine gun. The Strykers are equipped with more extensive computers and communications than the LAV-25 and its variants.
The report of Iraqi purchases of spare parts for French weapons bought in the 1980s indicates they plan to refurbish more 90mm gun armed scout cars for the heavy gun component of these brigades. They may also buy additional scout cars to fill out the scout car elements.
A five year purchasing plan means a total of 21 light armor/mechanized reconnaissance brigades are planned. This equates to a little over five divisions worth of light armor.
The organization of the Iraqi Army's 9th Division indicates that each of the planned nine heavy divisions will have one light armored reconnaissance (Cavalry) brigade. That means that nine of the 21 light armored cavalry brigades will be assigned to the heavy divisions as their reconnaissance brigades. The 37th Light Mechanized Brigade is already filling that reconnaissance role in the Iraqi 9th Armored Division.
The remaining 12 light armored reconnaissance brigades will probably upgrade two to four of the existing Iraqi Army Divisions to Light Armored Cavalry Divisions, similar to the French 6th Light Armor Division or the Stryker equipped US 2nd Infantry Division. The three most likely candidates for this Light Armored Cavalry conversion (in order of probability) are the 1st (Quick Reaction Force) Division, 6th Division, and 12th Division. The current plan is to upgrade the forces during stage two (2011-2015), however, budgets issues and changes are probable. The upgrades will probably extend into Stage Three (2016-2020). Distribution options for these 12 brigades are (in order of probability):
• Three Light Armored Cavalry Divisions of four cavalry brigades each (1st, 6th, and 12th Divisions).
• Only two Light Armored Cavalry Divisions (1st and 6th Divisions), the remaining vehicles split among the four planned corps troop's reconnaissance brigades.
• One tank or mechanized brigade for each of the Light Armored/Mechanized Divisions to provide a heavy armored capability. This addition to the structure would result in a total of four of these divisions (1st, 6th, 12th, and 4th Divisions).
• Only three Light Armored/Mechanized Divisions (1st, 6th, and 12th Divisions), the remaining vehicles split among the four planned corps troop's reconnaissance brigades.
These light armored forces will provide reconnaissance, quick-reaction forces, and counter-insurgency support as needed. The LAV-25s are a proven reconnaissance vehicle used by the US Marines and have heavier firepower than the Stryker reconnaissance variant at the expense of computer and communications capabilities.
This is the third in a series of articles on Iraqi Security Force components. The first was "Iraq announces plan to expand the Air Force" and the second was "Iraq develops its light combat divisions".