By Grigor Hakobyan
Since the Four Day War of 2016, Armenian military capabilities have undergone significant number of improvements in 2017. Such improvements include acquisition of new military hardware, large scale engineering improvements along the entire LOC (Line of Contact), introduction of new military gadgets such as night vision and thermal vision cameras, ground sensing radars and combat robots, construction of secure new roads for quick transportation of military materiel and personnel to the frontline, reforms in mandatory military service, fast phased development of domestic military industrial complex, engagement of diaspora Armenians in country’s active reserve, building of new military partnerships with foreign countries such as China, India and Iran, and improving present military cooperation with international organizations such as CSTO and NATO.
Consequently, given a very complex topography of Armenia (mountainous terrain) coupled with high combat readiness of Armenian troops and improvements made to country’s military capabilities for the last two years the chances for a successful Azerbaijani military intrusion into any part of Armenian territory (including Artsakh) have been significantly reduced to minimal. However, despite the fact that Armenian military is capable of deterring Azerbaijan from launching another adventurist military campaign resembling the Four Day War by significantly degrading Azerbaijani military capabilities in such a conflict, Armenia will not be able to deter a desperate Azerbaijani dictator (Aliyev) from launching another round of all-out war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that will resemble the war of 1988-1994.
Most military analysts make references to military hardware showcased during annual military parades in Armenia to gauge the extent of the deadly arsenal found in possession of Armenian armed forces and look up such information publicly available on the internet. However, the fact of the matter is that the military parades do not show everything that Armenia has and it shouldn’t. One just needs to keep in mind that Armenia will not show its latest weapons at any time unless it finds compelling reasons to exhibit its latest weaponry considering that all the latest weapons in Armenia’s possession constitutes a military secret.
During the Four Day War in April of 2016 the TV appearance of short range Armenian ballistic missiles (Scud B and Iskander-E) in Artsakh deterred Azerbaijan from pressing on its military aggression against the Republic of Artsakh and forced Baku to seek a ceasefire with Armenian republics by reaching out to Russia which in turn pressured Armenia to halt its obliterating counter-offensive in Artsakh. As a result of Armenia’s counter-offensive Azerbaijani military capabilities were significantly degraded while the bulk of its air force deterred from conducting any combat operations for the duration of the war.
What is publicly known so far is that Armenian armed forces have been quietly upgrading its air force, air defenses and ground forces. A vast fleet of T-72 MBTs have been upgraded and/or undergoing upgrades to T-72B3M/B4 standard which equates and in some cases, exceeds modern versions of T-90 MBTs. As part of this type of upgrades Armenian T-72s are receiving new cannons, new engines, night vision and thermal vision cameras, and additional layers of active and passive protection systems. Some of these tanks are receiving their upgrades in Russia and Poland, while others are being upgraded in Armenia with technological innovations achieved by rapidly growing Armenian military industrial complex. In the meantime, a number of modern T-90 MBTs have been procured from Russian Federation as well.
Additionally, a number of Russian made MLRS such as BM-27 (Uragan), BM-30 (Smerch) and flamethrower TOS-1A (Sontsepyok); Chinese made WM-80 and AR1A, and Russian made short range ballistic missile systems such as Tochka-U (SS-21 Scarab B- firing range of 120km) and 9K720 Iskander-E (SS-26 Stone-firing range of 280km) have joined the artillery units of Armenian armed forces. These systems were an addition to a number of Soviet-era Elbrus (Scud-B) short range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles that were already in possession of Armenian armed forces since mid-1990s. These Scud Bs have been deeply modified by the Armenian military industrial complex and turned into ballistic cruise missiles resembling capabilities of Iskander-E. Armenian artillery units were additionally enhanced with Armenian made N-2 (thermobaric) MRLS.
A large number of Russian acquired electronic warfare systems such as Infauna, R-330P and domestically produced electronic warfare systems such as Manushak and others have further augmented the capabilities of Armenian ground forces. New armored vehicles such as Tigr (Tiger), BRDM-2, Armenian made Hayk and BTR 80 were also acquired and later domestically modernized. Anti-tank capabilities were further enhanced with the acquisition of relatively new or modified ATGMS (Anti Tank Guided Missile Systems) such as RPO-A Shmel (thermobaric warheads), 9M113M Konkurs-M, 9P149 Shturm-S, 9M111M Faktoriya, 9M14 Malyutka and anti-tank version of BRDM-2.
Armenian air forces and air defense forces were also modernized by acquisition of new aircrafts, radars, drones and missile systems. Specifically, new MANPADS (Igla-S and 9K333 Verba), BUK-M1-2/3, radars such as Avtobaza, modernized P-12, P-15 and others. Furthermore, Armenia has been interested in acquiring new combat aircrafts such as Mi-28 (Havoc), Su-30 (Flanker) and new air defense systems such as S-350 and S-400. Some of them could be already in possession of Armenian armed forces as Armenian military is constantly modernizing and upgrading its defense capabilities. In fact, 2018 budget allocations for the needs of Armenian military have reached $800 million which is unprecedented in the history of Armenia’s Republic. The 2017 was also the year of breakthrough in drone technology as Armenian armed forces acquired their own “kamikadze” and attack drones in conjunction with anti-drone weapon systems made in Armenia.
Armenian military service is undergoing significant reforms also. Specifically, efforts are made to increase the number of contract soldiers serving on the front line along the entire LoC (line of contact). A number of automated surveillance and fire control systems, units of artillery and air defense systems (MANPADS) have been installed in the front-line positions which weren’t present before and during the Four Day War in April of 2016. New recruits are no longer automatically send to the front line without undergoing a proper training (boot camp) beforehand. Several war games have been already conducted in 2017 including call ups of active reserve for temporary service and/or brief training to sharpen their combat skills and familiarize them with new and modernized weapon systems. Additionally, a special program has been designed for Diaspora Armenians who are interested in acquiring hand to hand combat, weapons training and survival skills in Armenia.
Armenian military has also introduced a new service program called-“Yes Em”(“I am” in English) which envisions three years of mandatory service (instead of two years of mandatory service) with built-in financial incentives. Specifically, those who sign up for this program will undergo five months of boot camp training, serve for two weeks at their assigned military post, then take one week off to break at home and then come back for another one week of active military service and so on for the duration of three years. In all, program enrollees will receive seven months of vacation, free spending money every time they go home for a break and a $10,000 (US dollars) bonus at the end of their service which they can use to either start a small agrobusiness or purchase agricultural machinery, make a down payment toward their home mortgage or use it to pay for their college tuition.
Nearly all military experts would agree that presently Azerbaijani military has lost an element of surprise and will not be able to carry out another blitzkrieg against Armenian frontline positions at any section of the LOC. Unequivocally the improvements made in Armenian military capabilities since the Four Day War in 2016 are capable of deterring another Azerbaijani military aggression but not an all-out war launched by an irrational dictator of Azerbaijani sultanate Heydar Aliyev. It is not ruled out that within the next few years falling oil prices on world markets, continuous corruption and stifling of democracy in Azerbaijani will cause social-economic and political upheavals in Azerbaijan that will culminate in a social eruption threatening Aliyev’s grip on state power; that’s when the next round of war with Armenia will become inevitable as diverting public anger towards a foreign “enemy” is the most convenient way for dictators to cement their hold on power and eliminate any challenges to their power at home. The alternative outcome for Aliyev’s clan would be to spend time behind bars or live out the rest of their lives in exile.
There is no doubt that Aliyev will do his best to divert domestic discontent against his rule towards the perceived threat emanating from Armenia by rekindling Azerbaijani chauvinism and revanchist aspirations of his generals. Therefore, Armenia has no other choice but to continue pouring most of his resources toward improving its military capabilities, eliminate any waste of its resources, deter theft and corruption in its armed forces, strengthen bonds between its military and Armenian society, and make rapid strides in maturation of its military industrial complex in hopes of achieving an edge over Azerbaijan within the next few years. Armenia has no other choice but to win the next round of all-out war with Azerbaijan in a shorter time and with fewer loses than what it has experienced in an all-out war of 1988-1994 or face collapse of its statehood.