Fit for a Fight?: Armenia and Azerbaijan flex military muscles, vow to not be overcome

The SU-25 is old, but believed to be reliable in highland combat
Armenia’s defense budget will increase by 20 percent next year, from $125 million to $150 million, as announced following a session of the National Assembly Tuesday (October 18).

News of the increase comes less than a month after it was learned that Armenia has purchased 10 assault planes, increasing its air power arsenal from 6 to 16.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan plans to spend $650 million on defense next year, more than a 100 percent increase (from $300 million) and almost four times its budget ($175 million) in 2004.

At an appearance in the Azeri town of Lenkoran last month Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev warned that:

“The enemy should know that Azerbaijan is ready to liberate its lands at a desirable time,” adding that money for the increase comes from revenues of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

Aliyev further commented that the goal of his country is to make Azerbaijan’s military budget the equivalent of Armenia’s entire State budget (which next year should be about $1 billion).

Are the two republics preparing for war?

Armenia’s Minister of Defense has said his army is not preparing for war, but is merely reacting to buildup from the other side. Which is also what the Azeris say, whose leadership has also stated that armed conflict may be the only means of settling the Karabakh issue.

Late last month, Armenian media learned of the purchase of the war planes. Although the Ministry of Defense would not reveal their make or type, it was learned that they may be characterized in two ways: Old. Cheap.

The SU-25 planes were acquired from Slovakia, and, new, would cost about $16-17 million. Used planes are valued at about $1 million Armenia bought all 10 for $1 million. The planes are at least 20 years old, probably older, as they were built during the Soviet era and were given to Slovakia after the breakup of Czechoslovakia. (For information about the planes, visit http://disarmament2.un.org/UN_REGISTER.nsf)

Still, news of the purchase fueled criticism from the Azeris over the “aggressive” Armenians. Further, the perception propagated by media there is that Armenia military is receiving aid from Russia. Azeri media also referred to the planes as SU-27, a generation of the SU model far superior to the SU-25.

“A fundamental difference of the purchased planes from fighters such as SU-27 is that while SU-27 in its basic modification is a powerful air superiority fighter, characterized by a great range of flying ability and optimized primarily for combats against air targets, the SU-25 is a specialized and relatively simple battle-plane,” says military analyst David Harutyunov.

The analyst added, however, that the SU-25 may be particularly suitable to Armenia’s defense needs.

“It is especially effective in local conflicts, and at use in highlands,” Harutyunov told ArmeniaNow. “Thus, the choice of Armenia’s Ministry of Defense reflects objective military-strategic conditions.”

News of the planes’ purchase has provoked conversations concerning quotas on the amount of military equipment in the countries of the region determined by the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Tenets of the treaty set the maximum quantity of warplanes for Azerbaijan and Armenia at 100 each and attack helicopters at 50 each.

In addition to its newly-fortified warplane stable, Armenia has 14 “shock” helicopters, while Azerbaijan is believed to own 48 warplanes and 15 attack helicopters.

(Besides aircraft, Armenia and Azerbaijan have undertaken under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty to remain within the limits of the following quantity of war reserve: 220 tanks (according to the UN Register of Conventional Weapons, Armenia has 110; while Azerbaijan has 270); 220 armored combat vehicles (Armenia has 140, Azerbaijan, 361); 285 artillery of 100 mm caliber or more (Armenia, 229; Azerbaijan, 301).

(Harutyunov points out that Armenia also benefits from 18 MiG-29s located on Russian bases in Armenia, intended for the defense of Armenian airspace.)

“Of course, it is dangerous when the military budget of a neighboring country drastically grows,” Armenia’s Minister of Defense Serzh Sargsyan said Tuesday. “But there is a question of the efficiency of use of these means. It is not a secret that we purchase the same military equipment at incomparably lower prices than Azerbaijan. It is desirable, of course, that we have comparable financial opportunities. However, we will not agree to concessions in any case.”