The key goal of Azerbaijan this year has been to neutralize the military and political consequences of Russia’s decision to sell Armenia Iskander missile systems. During ADEX 2016 (the 2nd Azerbaijan International Defense Exhibition), the Azerbaijani military leaders announced plans to produce Grom 2 systems jointly with Ukraine as a counterbalance to Armenia’s Iskanders. The only problem is that today Ukraine’s defense industry is not strong enough to be able to carry out this project.
So, the Azerbaijanis are looking for alternative options, particularly, they are considering buying Chinese or Pakistani systems, which are much worse than Russian Iskanders. After Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov’s Oct 2017 visit to Belarus, some media reported agreements to supply Azerbaijan with Belarusian Polonaise systems, which, according to Azerbaijani journalists, are no worse than Russian Iskanders. Armenian experts are not unanimous. Some of them say that Polonaise is worse as its rockets are not guided and add that the Azerbaijani army has lots of very different missile systems – Turkish Kasirga, Soviet-time and Russian Grads and Smerchs, Israeli-Kazakh Xs, Czech Vampirs – and this may cause them lots of logistical and organizational problems. The others are worried as they see this as the possibility of a preventive strike from the Azerbaijani side.
In the meantime, the Azerbaijanis are also looking for air and missile defense systems. They already have Russian S-300 PMU-2s, Russia’s best air defense systems. But those systems are aimed against planes rather than missiles. This is why recently Hasanov visited Israel and negotiated with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman the purchase of Israeli Iron Dome missile defense systems, successfully tested by the Israelis against Hezbollah and Hamas.
But home-made Palestinian Qassam rockets can hardly be compared to Russian Iskanders. And even though Iron Domes are not able to destroy Iskander missiles, the Azerbaijanis are still going to deploy them in Baku, Ganca, along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and Mingachevir HPP, the first target the Armenians will hit in case of a new Azerbaijani attack.
In summer, Azerbaijan received one more batch of Russian 9M123 Khrizantema anti-tank missile systems. The contract was signed in 2014. The first batch was received in 2015 but later the supplies were stopped because of financial problems. Now the problems have reportedly been solved.
In July 2017, while visiting Islamabad, Commander of Azerbaijan’s Air Forces Ramiz Tahirov signed a contract to buy MFI-395 Super Mushshak trainer planes. Super Mushshak is an upgraded version of MFI-17, produced in 2001, and is used by Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, South Africa and Iraq. The Azerbaijanis have also bought Czech DANA-M1 CZ 152-mm howitzers.
Israel will continue supplying Azerbaijan with drones, particularly, Hermes 900s. The Azerbaijanis are also interested in Israel’s signals intelligence station, which operates not only against traditional enemy, Iran, but also against Armenia – a fact the Israelis are trying to hush up.
In 2018. Azerbaijan is supposed to receive Russian BMP-3 infantry combat vehicles. Its defense sector is actively engaged in producing sniper rifles, licensed Russian AK-74 assault rifles and pistols. South African Paramount Group has granted the Azerbaijanis a license to produce Marauder and Matador armored mine-protected vehicles. In Feb 2017, Azerbaijan presented its first home-made armored vehicle, Tufan, to be produced on a mass basis by Agregat Company.
Azerbaijan has an Israeli license to produce Aerostar drones. According to the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, the Azerbaijanis are also developing reconnaissance-combat Zabra-1K drone. They are also negotiating with the Russians to open Russian Helicopters maintenance center in Azerbaijan.
The year 2017 was successful for Azerbaijan’s shipbuilding sector. The country commissioned its fought OPV 62 corvette and started building the sixth one. The fifth ship is being built in a shipbuilding center near Baku. OPV 62s have a full load displacement of 470 tons, length 61.79 m, a width of 7.62 m and draught of 2.77 m and Rafael MLS NLOS missile systems with Rafael Spike NLOS guided missiles, Rafael Typhoon remotely controlled stabilized naval weapon system, two Rafael Mini Typhoon, two 12.7 mm, two 7.62 mm guns and modern Israel-made electronics.
Also with Israel’s support, the Azerbaijanis have built two Saar-72s (72-m-long missile-armed corvettes). This is part of Azerbaijan’s program to confront Iran in the Caspian Sea. Under this program, the Azerbaijanis keep inviting American experts (from SEAL and Blackwater/Xe) for training their marine corps.
Azerbaijan is doing its best to strengthen its army and its key stimuli here are the conflict with Nagorno-Karabakh, the growing army of Armenia and the rivalry with Iran in the Caspian Sea region. But today Azerbaijan is not as rich as it was a few years ago. N 2018, it is going to spend on defense $1.6bn. This is much more than Armenia is going to spend ($512mn) but half of this sum will be spent on interior troops, national security and repressive arms. Defense will get just $800mn. The Azerbaijanis have lots of unpaid contracts but are still there to buy more arms, like MIG-29 or SU-25 – planes that will hardly be able to overcome the air defense systems in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, the current state of Azerbaijan’s army and military budget is a chance for the Armenian side to close the gap and to guarantee stability in the region.
Anton Yevstratov, specially for EADaily