Helicopters purportedly at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ new helicopter and drone base in Zahedan.
“The helicopter fleet in the southeast of the country was strengthened for large security missions.”
Iran is beefing up its military strike capability in its southeastern province of Sistan va Baluchistan with a new helicopter and drone-capable air base in the provincial capital of Zahedan. While the region is the second-largest Iranian province by size, its population is sparse and the province itself has long been considered a backwater. Indian Ocean trade from its strategic port of Chabahar remains miniscule in comparison to Iran’s Persian Gulf and Caspian ports.[i] According to the following excerpted article from Azad News Agency, the base will “accommodate IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] drones…[a]ll sorts of attack and combat helicopters, search and rescue craft, and unmanned aerial vehicles.” This announcement is notable since the region has long been a strategic Achilles’ heel for the Iranian regime. Smuggling across Iran’s frontier with Afghanistan is a problem that predates Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The region has long been restive both because its harsh terrain gives shelter to criminals and terrorists and because of sectarian and ethnic tension between the local Sunni and Baluch population and the Shi’ite Persians and Azeris who dominate the Iranian regime and the IRGC. There has been no shortage of unrest in recent years, including high-profile attacks on the IRGC in the region.[ii] These conditions may be the prime reason, albeit unstated in the Iranian press, why the IRGC has established the base in Sistan va Baluchistan. The move may also reflect the Iranian regime hedging its bets regarding future relations with the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan. Curiously, given previous Iranian investment in Chabahar, the decision to locate the base beyond helicopter range to the port raises questions about Iranian strategy, although it may reflect a rolling decision to deemphasize the strategic importance of the port in the future.
“Paygah-e Havaye va Balgard-e Niru-ye Zamini Sepah Aftah Shod (The Army Air Force Opens its Helicopter Headquarters),” Azad News Agency (an ostensibly private news agency that closely follows the government line), 10 May 2023. https://ana.press/fa/news/846682
…In the presence of General Hossein Salami, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an air and helicopter base named “Ali Arabi” was inaugurated in Zahedan, in the southeast of the country. It will also accommodate IRGC drones. All sorts of attack and combat helicopters, search and rescue craft, and unmanned aerial vehicles can use the base that is built to the latest technical specifications and aviation standards.General Mohammed Pakpour, Commander of the IRGC Ground Forces, spoke about the objectives in building the base. “With the operation of this base, the IRGC’s ground force helicopter fleet in the southeast of the country was strengthened and equipped for large security, defense, rescue and rescue missions, support, people assistance and service,” he said. “In addition to creating the capacity for maintenance and simultaneous take-off of dozens of helicopters, all capacity for refueling, hangering, repairs and maintenance have been created.”
[i] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Construction Begins on the Chabahar-Zahedan Railway” OE Watch, December 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/359394/download
[ii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iranian Border Guard Post Overrun, Guards Abducted” OE Watch, December 2018. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/252911/download
Image: Helicopters purportedly at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ new helicopter and drone base in Zahedan.
Attribution: Azad News Agency