How Strong Is Iran's Military? These Are the Islamic Republic's Missiles and Other Weapons

Iranian officials have sworn revenge against the United States' assassination of one of its top generals after a dramatic escalation in tensions that many fear sets the stage for war.

Although the Islamic Republic's next steps were yet unclear, President Donald Trump has already begun bolstering the U.S. military posture in the region. As Newsweek reported, the U.S. has mobilized its Patriot surface-to-air missile systems in Bahrain and reportedly sent up to 3,500 additional personnel to the region in preparation for retaliation.

The U.S. has kept a watchful eye on its adversary's activities. The Defense Intelligence Agency, for example, laid out a number of Iran's weaponry in a series of playing cards in August, and in November, the agency released a comprehensive report detailing the Islamic Republic's military capabilities, along with its history and strategy.

Among Iran's greatest strengths are its missile arsenal, the largest and most advanced in the Middle East, and commanding the region's largest standing army. The Islamic Republic also is supported by scores of Shiite Muslim militias hostile toward the U.S. and its allies, a sentiment further fomented by Thursday's slaying of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani and at least two senior Iraqi militia officials in Baghdad, though the full number and identities of the victims remain unclear.

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A Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile is pictured on display next to a portrait of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a street exhibition by Iran's army and paramilitary Revolutionary Guard celebrating "Defense Week" marking the 39th anniversary of the start of 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, at the Baharestan Square in Tehran, on September 26, 2019. Iran has the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East. AFP/Getty Images

The 2019 edition of the Global Firepower Power Index annual ranking system placed Iran at 14th, above rivals Israel (18th) and Saudi Arabia (25th), with the U.S., Russia and China taking the top three spots, respectively. The country has prioritized producing indigenous equipment because it has been subject to international sanctions restricting its ability to purchase weapons abroad since 2010, measures that were set to expire this October as part of the multilateral nuclear agreement the U.S. left in 2018.

Much of the country's imported arsenal is considered outdated, including Western equipment manufactured before the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted the CIA-backed monarchy, with some Soviet and Chinese systems as well, but Iran has sought to use even weaknesses as advantages. For example, its navy was largely made up of small, fast-attack craft that have been trained to swarm and overwhelm larger vessels.

Iran has also made strides in developing weapons within its borders. These include formidable anti-aircraft systems such as the 3rd-Khordad—which was said to have taken out the U.S. Navy's advanced Global Hawk spy drone in June—the Mersad-16 and the Bavar-373.

The country has also taken pride in its growing missile arsenal, which contains rocket artillery such as the Fajr-5 and Zelzal, and short-to-medium range ballistic missiles like the new Khorramshahr that can fly more than 1,200 miles. It has also developed long-range cruise missiles of the Soumar family, with an estimated range of around 1,550 miles, potentially reaching into Europe.

A graphic provided by Statista shows the range of some of Iran's various missiles, as estimated by the Soufan Center. The Islamic Republic has continued to develop its missile program despite warnings from the United States. Statista

The country has invested heavily in unmanned aerial vehicles, including reconnaissance, combat and so-called "suicide drones" such as the Raad 85. Some of those missiles and drones have been reportedly transferred to allied militias across the region, including in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, granting Tehran so-called "strategic depth" against its foes—namely the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia.

This expeditionary strategy would likely outlive Soleimani because the Revolutionary Guard has already chosen his successor, Brigadier General Esmail Qaani. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to maintain his country's "Axis of Resistance" across the Middle East.

In an effort to counter Washington's attempts to isolate it internationally, Tehran has also sought to forge new ties. Last month, Iran staged its first-ever joint naval exercises with Russia and China in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, signaling its status as a viable military power.

While Moscow and Beijing have never offered to intervene on Tehran's behalf, Washington's two top rivals have mostly blamed the Trump administration for the recent flare in tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Even European allies, who still support the nuclear deal, have urged the U.S. to de-escalate and pursue a diplomatic path.