A squadron of IIAF jet-fighters taking off to the air

Like many other countries during the cold war, Iran was forced to spend a substantial part of its national income on defense, about $8 billion a year, or 27 per cent of the Government Budget. The reason for this was summed up by the Shah in a press conference early in 1976 when he stated that such expenditure was not only compatible with efforts to achieve maximum economic development, "but essential" "There is no economic power without military power", he added. The Shahanshah always stressed the importance of defense against destruction or sabotage of national development efforts. He used to say that the checks and balances that make war between the superpowers seem unlikely today,  have nevertheless created the danger that smaller countries "might start adventures, here and there, and that with the impotency of the United Nations, which is very unfortunate, a country which is not prepared for these emergencies, would be the loser."

"That is why", the Shah told a 1972 press conference, "we have adopted what we call our independent foreign policy. First of all we are counting on ourselves and then on our friends, and it is very good for us to have friends. Nevertheless, we cannot allow ourselves to be taken by surprise. One day the friend on whom we are counting might not be around. So this must not result in the annihilation of your country, and because of that we are shopping for arms, the best everywhere." Iran's position  was, that until there is general disarmament under international control, it cannot neglect defenses for one minute."

The lranian armed forces have an unbroken tradition going back to the time of Cyrus the Great.

In the eighteenth century the Iranian army, under Nader Shah, was the equal of any fighting force in the world, but less than a century later it was barely capable of maintaining internal security, while foreign aggression had whittled away the country's earlier frontiers,  Iran had no navy.

When Reza Shah the Great first came to power in 1921 he realized that the only way to put an end to the state of anarchy and the inability of the central government to control local rulers was to establish a powerful and unified army. There were units such as the Cossack Division, of which he was the first Iranian commander, the Swedish-officered Gendarmerie, the antiquated Central Brigade, and the remnants of the South Persia Rifles, raised in the First World War by the British. Each of these units had its own weapons, uniforms and system of training, and in most cases had for years been controlled from a foreign capital.

Reza Shah welded these motley forces into a unified and coordinated force, put an end to foreign interference and embarked on an ambitious expansion programme backed by a modern system of training, which included sending promising young officers abroad on advanced courses and the establishment of a Military Academy. He formed the first General Staff, introduced conscription, established arms factories and created a navy and air force.

The Imperial Iranian Armed Forces,  which was headed by the Shahanshah its commander-in-chief, was a powerful and well-organized force equipped with the latest weapons systems and great emphasis on mobility and fire power.

The ground force, consisting of eight divisions, was supported by training establishments and combined arms centers throughout the country. There were infantry and armoured divisions, airborne infantry and armoured divisions, airborne brigades and special force units, backed by artillery, engineering and hell-borne units. All units were equipped with modern conventional arms.

The Imperial Iranian Air Force, founded in the thirties, had expanded and developed rapidly during the seventies. Equipped with the most sophisticated supersonic fighter-bombers ( F4's and F5's F14's) and other types of modern aircraft, it had become a highly efficient force capable of successfully carrying out its national defense responsibilites. Air Force bases were located in various parts of the country.

The Imperial Iranian Navy (Southern Command), established in 1972, was the best equipped navy in the Persian Gulf, with several frigates, modern destroyers, hovercrafts, LST's, support aircrafts. The Imperial Iranian Navy (Northern Command) maintained a small naval force in the Caspian with a few gun-boats, minesweepers and naval training establishments.

The Imperial Iranian Armed Forces were complemented by the Gendarmerie and Police, law- enforcement agencies functioning under the Ministry of Interior. The Gendarmerie was concerned solely with the maintenance of law and order outside city limits, and with the prevention of smuggling. It   was a highly mobile force of well-equipped units grouped in twelve districts, four of which were of brigade strength and eight of regimental strength. Gendarmerie officers were mostly seconded from the army, and uniforms and equipment are identical to those of the army. Its highly sophisticated communication system facilitated the coordination of all units, even those stationed in very remote areas. The police were responsible for the maintenance of law and order in urban areas. In the late sixties and seventies girls have been joining the police force as officers and other ranks.

In addition, Iran had two auxiliary defense organizations, the Civil Defense Organization, established in 1957 to plan and direct the protection of lives and property arising from enemy action or natural disasters. Operating under the Ministry of Interior and supported as required by the Armed Forces and the Red Lion and Sun Society, the Civil Defense Organization provided valuable services in disaster relief.

The objective of the National Resistance Forces, established in 1953, was to train every eligible Iranian in the defense of his home and village. Its civilian volunteers usually participated in annual manoeuvres with the Armed Forces.

Iran  was thus protected by a complex but coordinated defense system, one of the strongest and most modern in the Middle East, and acting as a factor for stability in a troubled region. Apart from its conventional military role it also had an original and unusual aspect -- the young men and women of the Revolutionary Corps and their international counterparts the Universal Welfare Legion. These were a new breed of soldiers trained to fight mankind's common foes iqnorance, disease and poverty, where-ever they occur.