If the U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us anything, it’s that no war can be expected to just be that easy, especially if the ultimate goal is regime change. This is something that military leadership generally recognizes—especially since those conflicts are still going on after more than a decade. For those who have not experienced it, however, it can be easier to forget.
And we might have been fighting Iran for a significant chunk of that period.
The Iranians are definitely outgunned, as the Washington Post reported on June 21, 2019. But as the Post reports and as the Millennium Challenge Exercises go to show, a war with the Islamic Republic could be a very costly one. In the Millennium Challenge, Retired Marine Gen. Paul van Riper was tasked with leading the fictional Iran against a U.S. carrier force. The short version is that Van Riper wiped the floor with the U.S., using only assets Iran had in the real world.
Iran’s numbers are substantial, more than a million men in arms against an invader, not counting the Revolutionary Guards, which numbers around another 150,000 troops.
That’s just in terms of manpower. Keep in mind Iran used human waves very well during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. While Iran is pretty much using the same planes, F-4 and F-14 fighters, as it did against Iraq in the 1980s, they do operate with a powerful anti-air missile screen. Even with their best pilots, however, this may not be enough to keep the U.S. from getting total air superiority, and Iran has a plan for that.
In order to keep naval forces at bay, the Islamic Republic Army is expected to use small-boat tactics for use against a much larger enemy, swarming around and laying mines while hassling international shipping, which could be the most dangerous casualty of such a war. The biggest issue is still yet to come.
Iranian proxies like Hezbollah are another region issue.
Iran has tens of thousands of unconventional troops and fighters with proxy forces in the region, projecting Iranian power and influence from its borders with Afghanistan in the east all the way throughout Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon in the west and beyond. These proxy forces have been harassing American and allies positions for decades. Any outbreak of open hostilities will only embolden those forces to step up their attacks against U.S. troops and ships in the Persian Gulf region.
The United States enjoys a superior technological and numerical advantage over Iran, but the Iranians aren’t going to just crumble and surrender to helicopters the way Iraqi forces have done in the past.