Key point: If Iran invaded Britain, there would be no question of which party is stronger. But Iran has the upper hand in the Persian Gulf.
“A comparison of the military might of the UK and Iran shows that Britain is lagging behind in manpower, land and naval strength, and oil resources,” the newspaper proclaimed after Iran seized a British tanker in the Persian Gulf, in retaliation for Britain’s seizure of an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar.
The Daily Express article was based on GlobalFirepower.com, which both presents statistics on the armed forces of 137 nations and ranks those nations using a proprietary formula that apparently includes a nation’s population and military manpower, geographic size, its financial strength, its oil reserves, its transport infrastructure and the quantity of military equipment.
Great Britain ranks eighth on the Global Firepower Index, while Iran is not far behind in 14th place (the United States comes first, Israel in 17th). Indeed, GlobalFirepower.com lists Iran as being stronger than Great Britain in several categories: 873,000 military for the 233,000 British, 1,634 Iranian tanks for 331 British vehicles and 386 Iranian warships for 76 British ( Britain is credited with more air power, with 811 military planes to 509 Iranians). Iran has more oil, but weaker finances.
All of this proves how misleading statistics can be. Great Britain and Iran are not in the same league at all.
First of all, whether or not Iran develops nuclear weapons, Britain most certainly has them. And not a jury-rigged “physical package” assembled in an underground bunker, but four Vanguard-class nuclear submarines, each armed with 16 Trident thermonuclear ballistic missiles. That’s enough atomic firepower to send Russia and China back to the Middle Ages, let alone Iran.
However, Britain would not use nuclear weapons against Iran for political reasons, and Iran would kill itself to use them against Britain or anyone else. This leaves the more immediate prospect of a limited conflict in the Persian Gulf, most likely a resumption of the “tanker war,” in which Iran will attack or seize tankers in retaliation for economic sanctions, while the Great Brittany (and the United States, and possibly Europe) will try to stop them.
In this case, it doesn’t matter how many tanks Iran and Britain have. Never mind that the British Challenger 2 tanks are world-class vehicles that leave behind Iran’s larger but motley fleet of locally made Russian, American and British tanks from the 1970s. But that is not the point: Britain does not send an armored division to invade Iran. And if it did, he would certainly be part of a multinational (mostly American) force.
Which leaves naval and air power as the key factors. Like its tank fleet, the Iranian Navy is a huge mishmash of Russian, North Korean, and native designs, as well as old Western ships from the 1960s and 1970s. But it does have dozens of missile and launcher ships. torpedoes, as well as small craft equipped with rocket launchers and machine guns that could potentially overwhelm a larger but isolated warship. Britain has a more conventional navy made up of high-tech destroyers, frigates and even a new aircraft carrier – but with 76 ships, the Royal Navy is only a shadow of its former glory. Currently, Britain sends only one destroyer and a frigate as a convoy escort to the Persian Gulf.
Ditto in the air, where the Iranian museum mixes a handful of former American-made F-14 and F-4 fighters, Russian-made planes that fled from Iraq to Iran and were interned, and Iranian models such as the Saeqeh, which looks remarkably like the F-5 fighters that the United States sold to Iran in the 1970s. Britain owns the advanced Eurofighter Typhoon, has now received its first stealth fighters F-35 and can support its fighter jets with a range of refuellers, electronic warfare planes and drones.
But this is where numerical comparisons of military strength really fail. If Iran invaded Britain, there would be no question of which party is stronger. However, in the Persian Gulf, British forces were operating 3,000 miles from the United Kingdom. Even with access to bases belonging to Iran’s hostile Arab neighbors, the British would still operate in Iran’s territorial waters, where all the tools of coastal guerrilla warfare – mines, small boat attacks – would be readily available. from Tehran.
So, is Britain or Iran stronger? It depends on the circumstances.
Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the national interest. It can be found on Twitter and Facebook. (This article was originally published earlier this year and is republished due to reader interest.)