Iran Defense Expenditure - savunmaanaliz
Defense Expenditures

Iran Defense Expenditure


My first article in defense budget category was Greece Defense Expenditure. My second article is about Turkey’s another neighbour Iran. Iran has long land border with seven countries (5894 km), and is located in the center of “strategic energy ellipse”. It is the 17th geographically largest country in world. Iran has about 800 miles of coastline, along the Persian and Oman Gulf. Iran is not a major naval power but historically land power. Its population is 85,888,910[1].

Iran’s economic outlook remains highly uncertain because of the COVID-19 and the US sanctions. According to World Bank data; Iran’s industry is spearheaded by the hydrocarbon industry as the country is rich in mineral resources, mainly oil (4th largest proved crude oil reserves in the world) and gas (2nd place in reserves in the world), copper, lead, zinc, etc[2]. However, this underground wealth has not been reflected in the welfare of the Iranian people.

Iran’s national security strategy aims to ensure continuity of clerical rule, maintain stability against internal and external threats, secure Iran’s position as a dominant regional power, and achieve economic prosperity[3]. The number one security priority is regime’s existence. Iran is not a part of an alliance. Because of UN sanctions Iran has not too much relation with western countries but direct military relations with some countries such as Syria, Iraq, China, Russia, South Africa and Venezuela. Iran and China officially signed the document for 25-year comprehensive cooperation yesterday. “Our relations with Iran will not be affected by the current situation, but will be permanent and strategic.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said according to Tehran News. Because of this limitations Iran is trying to stay a self- sufficient country.

Iran and China officially signed the document for 25-year comprehensive cooperation on March 27, 2021. (Courtesy: Tehran News)

Iran Armed Forces

Iran has managed to survive in this difficult geography for centuries and has deep-rooted state and military traditions. Iran’s conventional army (the Artesh) was established in the 1920s. Artesh acquired a wide range of advanced weapon systems during the 1960s and 1970s. Some of them were; American F-4, F-5, and F-14 fighter aircraft; AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters; M60 tanks; HAWK and SM-1 SAM; TOW antitank guided missiles , British tanks and corvettes, French patrol craft, and Soviet armored vehicles.

The 1979 Iranian Revolution changed everything fundamentally. The new leaders created better equipped and funded Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which they think more loyal to the new regime than Artesh. Iran’s armed forces now consist of two separate and parallel armed forces. Both have separate Army, Navy and Air Force. IRGC is mainly responsible to defend the regime from any threat, foreign or domestic. Iran’s national police force (NAJA), the Law Enforcement Force (LEF) and Qods Force are also part of IRGC[4].

Iran cannot import arms from Western countries and still depends heavily on weapon systems procured before 1979. Most of the current military equipment and weapons are obsolete or very low low activity rates [5].  This situation forced Iran for two options: Import weapons from eastern countries and develop national defense industry. Iran is trying to establish both options at the same time. Former commander of the IRGC Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan said. “The cost and quality of Iran’s military products are such that despite unfair sanctions against the Iranian nation, we export our defense products to major countries around the world”[6].

Defense Expenditure

Iran has not been able to compete with its Arab neighbours in military modernization. 2021 Global Fire Power defense expenditure review ranked Iran 14 out of 139 countries[8]. Iran’s annual defense budget estimated around $10 to12 billion. Since Iran has two separete armed forces, it is not easy to determine Iran’s defense expenditure. This uncertainty causes different sources to present different data: SIPRI estimated $12.6 billion, IISS estimated $17.4 billion and DIA reported $20.7 billion.

According to Saudia backed Arab news; “There are also the costs of other Iranian military activities that are not included in the official defense budget, such as the war in Syria, its nuclear program, and its support for the Quds Force, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and numerous other militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as support for various missiles programs whose total costs — according to the scarce available information — surpass $19 billion.  First is that, even though there is no official data about the money spent on Iranian defense projects, estimates indicate that the regime spends nearly $40 billion per year on them”[9].

According to world bank data; Iranian defense spending increased significantly from 2014 to 2018 after the implementation of the JCPOA. Iran’s official defense budget for 2019 is approximately $20.7 billion, roughly 3.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), as passed by the Iranian Majles[10].

IRGC is smaller in size but receives a greater proportion of the defense budget than the Artesh. According to DIA, Iran allocated 29 percent of the defense budget to the IRGC, compared with 12 percent for the Artesh in 2019[11]. Details of the 2019 defense budget shown below DIA pie chart.

2019 Defense Budget Details (Source: DIA)

 New Defense Programs

Iran cannot carry out main weapon system procurements and modernization program due to US and UN sanctions. Iran’s new 5-year national development plan, released in July 2017, emphasizes a broader range of conventional capabilities than past plans. The plan continues to prioritize missiles and naval forces, but it also emphasizes air power and ectronic warfare (EW) capabilities[12].

Iran is trying to build layered intercept capacity by SAMs, full radar coverage and C4ISR systems. It purchased Russian TOR short-to-medium-range air defense system and the S-300 PMU-2. Iran’s air to air defense capability is almost absent. To cover these shortfalls, Iran also shows interest in Russia’s Su-30 and Yak-130 jets and S-400 air defense system.  Iran is developing the long-range Bavar-373 SAM system, which it claims is more advanced than the Russian S-300[13]. But developed missiles has not yet the accuracy, reliability, and lethality to use them against critical targets[14].

Iran is also developing its offensive capabilities by cruise missiles and strike drones. Iran’s eight types UAV platform  with 14 different variants, able to fly ISR missions throughout the region or conduct limited but precise attacks with small munitions[15]. One live example was shown in the September 2019 Abqaiq-Khurais attack on Saudi energy facilities[16].

Iran has a national space launch vehicle (SLV) program. Iran successfully launched its first military satellite Nour-1 into low-earth orbit on April 22, 2020[17]. The ability to successfully launch an SLV could demonstrate the technical competency of Iran to build a long-range missile.  Iran now has a domestic capability to develop both liquid- and solid-fueled precision-guided missiles[18].

İran’s Nour 1 is now on the orbit (Courtest:Iran News)


Since Iran could not freely market its rich underground resources and because of the sanctions applied, it could not implement a strategic defense planning program. This causes mix of weapons and equipment from different suppliers on the force structure. This mix force structure causes lack of standardization, interoperability, common doctrine, training, supply, and logistics.  Accidental downing of the Ukrainian airliner on 8 January 2020, might be the result of this low level training and combat readiness of the air defense forces.

IRGC received $6.96 billion, while the larger conventional armed forces Artesh received $2.73 billion In the 2020 budget similar to 2019 budget. This funding unbalance shows the IRGC’s political, military, ideological and economic importance for Iran’s regime. This situation also shows that the security priority of the Iranian administration is the continuity of the regime and its desire to become a regional power.



[3] Wehrey, Frederic, et al. “Dangerous But Not Omnipotent: Exploring the Reach and Limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East.” Rand Corporation, 2009, – tent/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2009/RAND_MG781.pdf








[11] Iran Military Power 2019, p.19

[12] “Matn-e kaamel-e qanoon-e barnaameh-ye sheshom-e touseh” [“Complete Text of the Sixth Development Plan Law”]. Tasnim News Agency, 18 March 2017, www-tasnimnews-com/fa/news







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