286. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Irwin) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Merchant)0

Dear Mr. Merchant: You will recall that, in a letter of January 12, 19601 to the President of the United States, the Shah of Iran forwarded his views as to additional military assistance required by Iran. The Department of Defense has reviewed this letter together with an Iranian Survey of her military position vis-à-vis Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter having been presented to the President by the Shah on 14 December 1959.2 It is clear that the Shah has overstated the threat from these two countries. Further, the Shah has apparently used this overstated threat as the basis for his request for military assistance which is not only excessive but is also beyond his capacity to use effectively. It is the view of the Department of Defense that the President’s reply to the Shah should, in general terms, take into account the following points:

An order of magnitude cost estimate for the items included on the Shah’s list of requirements, obtained on an informal basis from Service points of contact, is $600 million.
The Iranian version of the threat from Iraq and Afghanistan has been considerably overstated. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the Iranian Armed Forces as presently organized and equipped are capable of defending Iran against unaided aggression from either Iraq or Afghanistan. Although the military capabilities of Iraq and Afghanistan can be expected to increase with Soviet aid, it is unlikely that their capabilities will increase to such an extent as would constitute a serious military threat to Iran.
Military aggression from, or supported by, the Soviet Union represents the dominant military threat against Iran.
The current bilateral agreement between the United States and Iran provides Iran with such safeguards as the United States can provide against external aggression from the Soviet Union or from a Soviet inspired attack by a combination of smaller nations. In addition, Iran’s membership in CENTO provides a measure of security against aggression.
The present and projected level of U.S. military assistance to Iran is sound and represents as much as can effectively be absorbed considering Iran’s economic structure, indigenous capability and current state of military training.
The present and projected level of military assistance is adequate to achieve fulfillment of U.S. objectives in the area. Any appreciable increase in the size of the Iranian military establishment could be counter-productive to the maintenance of U.S. objectives in Iran. In addition, it would complicate our relations with other countries in the area by increasing their demands for U.S. aid.

In addition to these points the Department of Defense is aware that the political involvements which would be entailed in furnishing military assistance to the Shah on the scale that he has requested would be very considerable. From the Defense point of view the creation of the kind of military concentration proposed would confront us with an unbalanced situation in the CENTO area which would be hard to deal with.

Inclosed are the detailed views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on specific Iranian military requirements as stated by the Shah, to be used as desired in the formulation of a Presidential reply to the Shah’s proposal.

Sincerely yours,

John N. Irwin II



The Joint Chiefs of Staff have studied the requirements which the Shah of Iran submitted to the President on 12 January 1960. The following comments are offered in consideration of each of the military requirements stated in his message:
If the mobile battle groups are required, they could be organized within the present strength of the Iranian Army. However, this might require additional material. This reorganization could be accomplished by a reduction of some of the present units and in phasing out [Page 668] some of the older equipment. With respect to Honest John and Corporal units, provision of the equipment required must of necessity follow the development of a capability in less sophisticated equipment, as a normal step in the evolution of the artillery of the Iranian Army. When the Iranian Army has reached a point where such missiles properly can be utilized, the Chief, MAAG Iran, could be expected to initiate a recommendation for inclusion of such equipment.
Iran and the United States have approved a Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) Air Defense Study and are engaged actively in planning for an air defense system in the CENTO area. The United States has agreed to participate in a CENTO conference in March 1960 to evaluate the antiaircraft capabilities of Iran and Pakistan. The findings of this conference should provide the United States with a basis for considering the provision of antiaircraft equipment to Iran. It must be cautioned, however, that antiaircraft units are of limited value without an early warning radar system which, although currently being installed in Iran, will not be operational for several years. As another step in improving the air defense posture of Iran, the United States has recently decided to provide Iranian aircraft with Sidewinder missiles as noted in sub-paragraph f below.
There does not appear to be adequate justification presented for an airborne brigade in Iran. It would appear that concentration upon improving the air transportability of the present Army units and adequate air logistical support would provide Iran with a more usable organization than would the expansion of their present parachute battalion, to airborne brigade strength.
Three of five programmed new ships have been delivered under the U.S. Military Assistance Program. Two more ships remain to be delivered, one in 1960 and one in 1961. Two additional ships are planned for the FY 1961 program. The Iranian Navy is not capable of assimilating ships at an appreciably greater rate than is involved in current planning. Furthermore, unless qualitative upgrading is established by retirement of the older and less effective ships, the Iranian Navy will encounter difficulty in operating and maintaining their Fleet.
In view of the support afforded by the Royal Air Force as provided in the Central Treaty Organization Interim Capabilities Plan, aircraft of the B–57 type should not be needed by the Iranian Air Force. Maintenance and operation of comparatively large units of this type aircraft would be difficult for Iran, except at the expense of the fighter-bomber units.
With respect to the high performance Century series aircraft, it is not considered that the Iranian Air Force has reached the stage of training required to operate such aircraft. A program to replace the present F–84’s with F–86’s is already under way. It is now proposed to [Page 669] equip F–86’s with Sidewinder missiles. This combination of F–86’s and Sidewinders should provide Iran with a combat capability far better than that possessed by either Afghanistan or Iraq, and comparable to that of many of the Soviet units. Some U.S. Air Force fighter units are still equipped with F–86 aircraft.
A requirement for a more modern transport aircraft for the Iranian Air Force appears valid. In view of the limited surface transport available in Iran, an air logistical capability would provide the Iranian Armed Forces with additional flexibility. It should be noted, however, that the Iranian Air Force would not be capable of operating and maintaining the number of this type aircraft noted in the Shah’s message. In view of the limited number of pilots and maintenance technicians within the Iranian Air Force, this requirement should be reconsidered from the standpoint of the quantity of transport aircraft visualized.
With respect to the six airfields noted in the Shah’s message, it is considered that the present two jet airfields and the additional airfield now under construction are more than adequate for the present Iranian Air Force, and would be adequate to meet Iranian requirements even in the face of a modest expansion.
In addition to the military factors involved, it is noted that the Shah has now decided to pull back his augmentation troops from the Shat Al Arab area. It is hoped that this withdrawal signals the easing of tensions between Iran and Iraq and may be accepted as an indication of improving relations between the two countries.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 788.5–MSP/2–2060. Top Secret.
  2. Transmitted in telegram 1490 from Tehran, January 12, the Shah made the following specific requests: improvements or new construction at 6 airbases or air strips; 2 new early warning radar stations at Dezful and Zahedan; 150 high-performance Century class fighter bombers; 36 tactical bombers of the B–57 class; 3 squadrons of C–123 or Caribou transport aircraft; 1 or 2 squadrons of reconnaissance aircraft; 12 liaison aircraft and 12 rescue helicopters, and 2 battalions of Nike anti-aircraft missiles. For Iran’s land-based forces, the Shah proposed to reorganize the army to meet the dual threat of direct attack from the Soviet Union or local conflicts from Iraq or Afghanistan. To do this the Shah proposed creating 10 highly mobile battle groups with atomic-capable missiles (Honest John and Corporal), M–48 tanks, armed personnel carriers, and modern anti-aircraft weapons. In addition, the Shah requested creation of an airborne brigade. For the Iranian navy, the Shah required 8 minesweepers, 5 coastal patrol vessels, 4 corvettes, 8 fast gun boats, and 1 tug boat. (Ibid., 788.5–MSP/1–1260) Eisenhower saw and initialed a copy of this telegram. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International Series, Iran.)
  3. See Document 281.