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SWAG on Iraqi Armor Distribution


DISCLAIMER:  What follows, while based on known Iraqi armor orders, is an extrapolation.  A prediction based on incomplete data.  If 60 percent turns out correct, it will be considered good.  The speculation article on Iraqi Armor orders only projected to 2014 and did not specify which divisions would be upgraded beyond the known.  This article projects to 2020 and includes a possible sequence of division upgrades.


The Iraqi Army appears to be adopting the US Army’s modular heavy brigade combat team (HBCT) structure with modifications.  Tank companies are only 11 tanks vice 14; In place of Bradley ICV/CFVs, they are using M-113s, BMP-1s, or BTR-4s; The brigade field artillery is only 1 battery of howitzers supported by 3 batteries of 120mm mortars; and trucks are being used for resupply vehicles vice M-113s.


US Armor Equipped Divisions


While the number of M1A1s currently ordered/optioned for [280] are only enough to equip the 9th Mechanized Division and 56th Mechanized Brigade, the number of M-113s [1026] being provided indicate 3 divisions plus a brigade are to be US equipped.  Coincidently, 3 Iraqi divisions and a brigade already have some M-113s [283] or have been training in M113s.  [I don’t believe in coincidence.] Those units are:

  • 56th [Baghdad] Brigade had 135 personnel trained as M-113A3 crew earlier this year.  That works out to slightly more than 7 companies to be equipped with M-113s.  Line elements of a US HBCT include 7 mechanized/mechanized reconnaissance (cavalry) companies and 4 tank companies. 
  • 9th Mechanized Division is known to be upgrading to M1A1 tanks and already has 2 mechanized reconnaissance battalions (6 companies) equipped with M113s.  Besmaya Combat Range is in their area and the division provides augment personnel for the Armor and Mechanized Schools.
  • 5th Division has a battalion equipped with M-113s and is located adjacent to Besmaya Combat Range where the Armor and Mechanized Schools are located.
  • 3rd Division has a battalion equipped with M-113s and is planned to swap areas, relocating to an area near Besmaya.


Also coincidently, the US plans to focus training on only 3 Iraqi Army divisions over the next years.


Factoring in delivery, production times, and budgets, the Iraqis will probably purchase a total of 700 M1A1 tanks in 5 total orders by 2020.  The first order of 140 M1A1s has started shipping this month and is to complete delivery in 2011.  The option for another 140 M1A1s, when exercised, delivers by the end of 2013.  Three more orders of 140 M1A1s each with deliveries completing in 2015, 2017, and 2019 would provide the tanks for the 5th Division and then the 3rd Division.  After each of these divisions are upgraded, 2 of the divisions will rotate to 2 of the 6 Iranian/Syrian border provinces [not including KRG] starting with Basrah.  5th Division is reported to be planning to rotate areas with 14th Division in Basrah.


Ukrainian Armor Equipped Divisions


The order of BTR-4 variants from the Ukraine is a partial order, only the 1st [550 million] of 5 annual orders totaling 2.4 billion dollars of equipment.  The initial deliveries of this first order starts to arrive in September and completes delivery in 2013. 


The number of command [80] and staff [30] vehicles ordered indicates a minimum of 2 divisions to be upgraded.  The number of line vehicles [270] fits for only 1 division of mechanized based on the US HBCT structure.  The number of repair vehicles [10] is insufficient.  The lack of fire support vehicles and tanks, insufficient support vehicles, plus the excessive number of command vehicles make this a partial order for at least 2 mechanized divisions.  The next annual order will probably be for tanks, followed by more line/support vehicles, followed by more tanks, and then the still missing components.  It requires approximately 400 tanks for the 2 divisions and a training element/maintenance float.  The best candidates for upgrade are:

  • 17th Division has been training at Besmaya in infantry operating from Bradleys.  The Bradley has a rear-ramp access like the BTR-4 and the M-113.  The BTR-4 with a Grom turret is comparable to a wheeled version of the Bradley.
  • 1st Division has 3 wheeled APC equipped battalions and is part of the strategic reserve Quick Intervention Corps.  These factors make 1st Division the likely second division to be upgraded in Phase 2.


Those are probably just the Iraqi Ministry of Defense Phase 2 [2011-2015] orders, to be followed by another set of Ukrainian armor orders in Phase 3 [2016-2020] upgrading 2 more divisions:

  • 11th Division already has a battalion of MTLBs and another with BMP-1s.  After a further partial upgrade with old armor from the 9th Division in the next 2 years, the 11th Division will probably upgrade with Ukrainian armor in Phase 3.  The remaining serviceable T-72s/BMP-1s will probably be consolidated into 19th Division and a training element at Besmaya during that upgrade.
  • 7th Division already has 2 battalions of BMP1s.  After a further partial upgrade with old armor from the 9th Division in the next 2 years, the 7th Division will probably upgrade with Ukrainian armor in Phase 3.  The serviceable T-72s/BMP-1s will probably be consolidated into 19th Division during that upgrade.
  • 19th Division is to be formed by splitting 8th Division.  The training of personnel in maintaining BMP-1s indicate that the 19th Division will be initially partially upgraded using old armor from 9th Mechanized Division.  The 19th Division will probably end up with all of the remaining serviceable Soviet-origin armor by 2020.


Which type of tank is to be ordered from Ukraine is not known.  The Ukrainian’s have stated that they hope to sell Iraq the Oplot tank but, used T-72s or the Yatagan tanks are also possibilities for the approximately 800 tanks needed for the 4 divisions and the training element.


For the fire support to go with the BTR-4s, MOP-4K Fire Support Vehicles will probably replace the M-113 120mm mortar carriers in the Ukrainian equipped divisions.  That would mean 72 MOP-4Ks per division or a total of about 300 for the 4 upgraded divisions and a training element.


The 8 mechanized divisions in 2020 are planned to be stationed in the 6 border provinces of Ninawa, Anbar, Diyala, Wassit, Maysan, and Basrah with 2 in the strategic reserve in Baghdad.


A training brigade will probably be established at Besmaya consisting of a US-equipped battalion, a Ukrainian-equipped battalion, an old Soviet-equipped battalion, and a mixed brigade support battalion.  By 2020, the oldest armor [the T-55s, MTLBs, Type 63s, etc] will probably phase out or transfer to the training establishment to form an opposition force training brigade.  That would leave the T-72s and BMP-1s consolidated into one division.  


Alternate Possibility for Ukrainian Armor


There is one other possibility concerning the Ukrainian armor.  It is possible that that armor is for the Federal Police and/or Iraqi Special Operations Force (ISOF) instead of the Iraqi Army.  The only reporting of possible tank sales has been from the Ukrainians.  There have been no reports confirming the Ukrainian armor is for the Iraqi Army.  This is not a mutually exclusive option; they could be planning to use this armor for all 3 services.


The Federal Police was reportedly planning to form a light mechanized division in Diwaniyah.  That location indicates regional basing with more than 1 light mechanized division planned.   At least 2, probably 4 is the best estimate.      The Iraqi Special Operations Force has personnel recently trained in BTR-80 maintenance.  This indicates that they are getting the BTR-80 APCs from the 9th Division and possibly some of the BTR-4s ordered.


Only half the 6,000 M-113s in the process of being decommissioned by the US Army have been accounted for.  This means that the Iraqi Army may be planning on acquiring more M-113s for their mechanization program and the BTR-4s could be for the Federal Police and ISOF mechanization programs.


A year from now, with the deliveries of M113s, BTR4s, M1A1s, and the next Ukrainian order announced, the picture will be much clearer.  The current plan appears to be for the Iraqi Army to reach parity with Iran in numbers of tanks and superiority in quality of tanks by 2020 [700 M1A1 plus 1,000 T-72, Oplot and/or Yatagan].  Combined with a quantitative and qualitative superiority in supporting armor and mobility, this would make a credible force to deal with the most likely enemy.


Related Articles:

July 11, 2010:  Speculation on Iraqi Army Armor Forces by 2014

Updated Monthly:  Iraqi Order of Battle


DJ Elliott