Saturday, October 26, 2013

61st 'Muharram' Artillery Group

The Sepah's 61st 'Muharram' Artillery Group is based near the north-eastern city of Torbat Heydariyeh in the Razavi Khorasan province, and is commanded by Sarhang (Colonel) Bani-Hassan. Its garrison can be found just east of the Mashhad-Torbat Heydariyeh expressway, butted up against the southern face of the adjacent mountain range.

Col. Bani-Hassan; note artillery branch service insignia (Taban Torbat)

Google Earth offers imagery of the area from 12/2003, 09/2011, 03/2012, and 11/2012. Bing offers a slightly higher quality of the same 03/2012 imagery.

The internal layout and characteristic features of this base are consistent with the limited number of other Sepah base's detailed thus-far (the 21st and 60th armored brigades). This includes the group headquarters (1), which can be identified by their placement near both the parade yard, and the main-entry / round about. The actual building style is nearly identical to that used by the 21st IAB in Neyshabur.

The battalion clusters are similarly organized. Three clusters are readily apparent (2), each with two barracks of the same type observed in Neyshabur. Although there isn't the same degree of uniformity in secondary buildings, two of the clusters can each be associated with six identical warehouse-type buildings (3). The northern-most cluster saw a seventh warehouse constructed between 09/2011 and 03/2012. These three clusters likely correspond to the group's combat units. One more characteristically barracks-type building (4) can be found near the entrance to the garrison, close to a large warehouse and logistics equipment (tractors and storage containers) (5). This may correspond to the group's combat service support.

The large building south-west of the headquarters, which can be identified by it's intricate/atypical roof structure, likely corresponds to the prayer-building/lecture-hall, which itself is likely associated with the garrison's ideological/political department (6).

Secondary facilities outside of the main garrison include two firing ranges, whose refurbishment/construction started sometime before 09/2011. Next to these two ranges is another open area with a number of unknown white objects (tents perhaps?), whose purpose is equally unknown. Dotting the nearby fields are a number of revetments that are traditionally associated with artillery positions. One main revetment holds the gun, while one or two revetted 'lobes' at the base protect ammunition and/or the gun-crew.

Between 03/2012 and 11/2012, construction on eight buildings (7) of an unknown purpose began to the northwest of the main garrison compound. A road (8) leads north of the garrison into the foothills of the mountains to a security perimeter that encloses the groups modest number of hardened-shelters (six) used for munition storage.

Like other Sepah facilities the author has observed, the 61st Artillery Group continues has continued with that pesky tendency to conceal their combat equipment under cover, making it more difficult to discern their force structure. However, media descriptions of the group's recent October 2013 exercises help shed some light in this regard.

 Specifically, the describe the composition of the 323rd artillery battalion as consisting of thee batteries of guns, and two batteries of rocket artillery. The rocket-battery strength was further specified at four BM-21 variants each. At least two types have been seen, a 40-round launcher mounted on a L-series Mercedez Benz chassis, or a 30-round launcher mounted on an unknown chassis. The strength of the gun batteries is unknown, but they were shown using D-74/Type-60 (122 mm) towed guns. EDIT - The guns pictured are actually the Type 59-1, which mounts the 130 mm barrel from the Type 59 on the Type 60 chassis, which can easily lead to confusion between the two the key recognitions points to the Type 60. To tell the two apart, note the ammunition style.

Tube Artillery on Exercise (IRNA / Taban Torbat)
The choice to organize rocket batteries alongside tube batteries is an interesting operational choice since it indicates that the traditional doctrinal employment of rocket artillery – massed volleys that deliver overwhelming levels of fire in a small time span – has been de-emphasized.
Rocket Artillery on Exercise (IRNA / Taban Torbat)
 While one might expect to find some amount of larger caliber battlefield rockets (ex: Nazeat, Zelzal) in the hands of artillery groups, it's worth remembering that these assets are held by the Sepah's Aeropsace Force rather than Sepah Ground Force's artillery groups.

Interview with group-commander Colonel Bani-Hassan
Date: October 3, 2013

Interview with deputy-group-commander Colonel Torabi
Date: October 8, 2013

Description of early-October exercises:

Photos from early-October exercises


  1. Tube/rocket artillery present at same garrison might represent a logistical expedient.

  2. Just was looking at this site in the past week or so was wondering if it was military. Great job! Love your work!