Iran Navy showcases Russian AK-103 Assault Rifles in Military Exercise

On November 26, 2023, the Iranian Defense Ministry showcased a series of photographs through its official X account, revealing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGC-N), also known as NEDSA (Niru-ye Daryâyi-e Sepâh-e Pâsdârân-e Enghelâb-e Eslâmi), during a military drill. The images displayed IRGC-N marines equipped with modern weaponry, such as the AK-103/133 rifles with RU-03 optics. This special force is also called the Sepah Navy Special Force.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 The AK-103 assault rifle, used by Iranian Marines, is a contemporary variant of the famed Kalashnikov series. (Picture source: Iran MoD)

The AK-103 assault rifle, manufactured by the Russian company Kalashnikov Concern, is a contemporary variant of the famed Kalashnikov series. Chambered in 7.62 mm and using the 7.62x39 cartridge, it balances power and manageability. The rifle weighs 3.6 kg with an empty magazine, making it a relatively lightweight yet sturdy option for marines. Its overall length is 943 mm when the buttstock is unfolded, reducing to 704 mm when folded, offering adaptability in various combat environments. The 415 mm barrel length, with an approximately 367 mm rifled portion, along with a 240 mm twist rate and four grooves, ensures precision and stability. The chrome-lined bore, measuring 0.021 mm, enhances durability.

Notable features of the AK-103 include its special 24x1.5 muzzle thread, fitted with a standard-issue brake. While it does not come with a standard silencer, a 6Ch65 rifle silencer can be attached if necessary. The rifle operates on a long-stroke gas piston system with a two-lug locking mechanism. It provides single and full-automatic firing modes with a 600 rounds per minute rate of fire but lacks a last-round bolt hold-open feature.

For sighting, it is equipped with open, slotted iron sights, and a rear sight adjustable along 10 lines and a 'P' marking. The dovetail side rail allows for mounting telescopic sights, though it does not support clip-on telescopic sights or additional equipment mounts. The trigger mechanism is a single-action, hammer type, without adjustable trigger pull weight.

Safety is ensured with a single-side switch on the right. The rifle has a folding, non-adjustable polymer buttstock, enhancing portability and ease of use in confined spaces. It also supports an optional bayonet for close combat versatility. Though lacking a standard-issue bipod, it includes a cleaning rod (one-piece, under the barrel) and a cleaning kit in the buttstock. The rifle can also be fitted with a grenade launcher, extending its role in diverse combat scenarios. The AK-103 is thus a reliable, versatile firearm, used in countries like Russia, India, Venezuela, Libya, and Namibia, and favored by special forces and police units for its adaptability and dependability.

According to Tasnim, an Iranian media outlet, Iran imported an undisclosed number of AK-103s from Russia in 2016 for use by its special forces and marines, including those in the IRGC. These rifles had not been observed until now.

The IRGC-N, established in 1985, is a significant naval warfare branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and has been designated as a terrorist organization by the governments of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Renowned for its unconventional warfare tactics and defending Iran's offshore facilities and coastal areas, the IRGC-N has actively participated in various naval confrontations and incidents.

Historically, the IRGC-N has employed fast attack crafts and specialized in asymmetric hit-and-run tactics. It is more akin to a guerrilla force at sea, equipped with extensive missile and mine arsenals for coastal and anti-ship defense. The organization's history includes active involvement in the Iran-Iraq war, especially during the "Tanker War" phase, and various confrontations with the U.S. Navy.

The IRGC-N has carried out several notable attacks against the navies of the United States and the United Kingdom, utilizing specific tactics and boat types suited to their naval guerrilla warfare strategy.

In January 2008, an incident involving the U.S. Navy occurred in the Persian Gulf. Five Iranian speedboats were reported to have "harassed" U.S. Navy ships. These swift CGRI boats executed threatening maneuvers, with one passing dangerously close, within 180 meters of the American vessels. This tense encounter highlighted the IRGC-N's ability to disrupt even the operations of global naval powers.

Another significant incident took place in 2016 when 10 American sailors were captured by the CGRI near Farsi Island. The sailors were on a training mission when their boat malfunctioned and drifted into Iranian territorial waters. Their swift capture by the CGRI's naval forces led to diplomatic negotiations that eventually resulted in their release.

The British Navy has also faced the daring tactics of the IRGC-N. In June 2004, eight British sailors and Royal Marines were captured while training Iraqi river patrol personnel. Then, in a more publicized incident in March 2007, fifteen sailors and Royal Marines from HMS Cornwall were captured. These events caused significant diplomatic tensions before the captured personnel were released.

In these operations, the IRGC-N frequently used fast inshore attack craft (FIAC), such as the Boghammar speedboats. These small, highly maneuverable boats are often armed with rocket launchers, RPGs, and heavy machine guns. They are designed for swift and surprising attacks, fitting into the IRGC-N's swarm tactics. These tactics leverage speed, coordination, and the ability to camouflage to harass and disorient larger enemy vessels.

These incidents underscore the IRGC-N's strategy focused on asymmetric tactics suited to the Persian Gulf. Their aim is to offset the technological superiority of the American and British naval forces through sea guerrilla methods, leveraging agility and surprise to achieve strategic objectives.

The IRGC-N can rely on a range of units such as combat (marines), naval, missile, drone, rapid reaction, electronic warfare, and airborne units.

If you would like to learn more about the IRGC-N, please feel free to click on the following links: here and here.