Friday, September 5, 2008

Azeris threaten Armenia with ballistic missiles, cluster munitions

First published in July 5, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Azerbaijan parades newly acquired military arsenal
Missiles shown put Yerevan within striking distance
News analysis by Emil Sanamyan

– In an unusually candid display of military technology that combined Soviet-era grandeur with Azerbaijan’s increasingly Middle Eastern flair, President Ilham Aliyev showed off newly acquired missile systems and spy planes in a grand parade held in Baku last week.

In contrast to combat aircraft already known to have been in Azerbaijan’s possession, the new systems’ characteristics make them more difficult for the Armenian armed forces to deal with successfully.

New missile threat

According to television footage and photos available online, the June 26 parade included at least three of the late-Soviet-model SS-21 tactical surface-to-surface ballistic missiles known in the West as “Scarab” and in Russia as "Tochka."

Depending on specific modifications, SS-21s are capable of delivering payloads of 482 kilograms, which could be either conventional or containing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), to distances between 15 and 120 kilometers, landing with deadly accuracy of between several to 50 meters.

Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan, is located within 70 kilometers of Azerbaijani-controlled Nakhichevan and within 100 kilometers of the Kedabek district of Azerbaijan, bordering on Armenia’s Gegharkunik province, putting the city within SS-21 reach from both directions.

Under international agreements, Azerbaijan – along with other states – is required to report on any such military acquisitions. No such declarations were made through the the United Nations Register of Conventional Weapons as of August 2007, suggesting that the acquisition was either recent or made without notification.

According to a 2005 Carnegie Endowment study, “World Missile Chart,” following the Soviet collapse, SS-21 systems were inherited by Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Slovakia. (In the early- to mid-1980s, older variants had also been supplied to Syria and Yemen.)

Of these countries, Ukraine has been the most active supplier of weapons systems to Azerbaijan.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, Boris Klimchuk, confirmed to Novosti-Azerbaijan that most of the equipment paraded on June 26 was supplied by Ukraine.

Also shown at the parade were at least six multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) known in Russian as Smerch (see the March 27, 2007, issue of the Armenian Reporter for a story about their acquisition from Ukraine). That deadly system, with a range of over 70 kilometers, was paraded along with other smaller-caliber and shorter-range non-Soviet MLRS systems that appeared Israeli or Turkish in origin.

Israeli-made spy planes

Other systems whose acquisition had not been made public prior to the parade were two types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), both made by Israel’s Aeronautics Defense Systems (ADS).

UAVs have been prominent in the regional news lately after Georgia purchased about 40 Hermes-450 systems made by Israel’s Elbit Systems and several of them were reported shot down over Abkhazia since last spring. UAVs are relatively inexpensive systems capable of supplying round-the-clock battlefield reconnaissance while evading many of the traditional air defense systems.

Per video and photography from the Azerbaijani parade, the systems shown were not Elbit’s but ADS’ short-range Orbiter and midrange Aerostar UAVs.

According to, Orbiter is a very light system that military personnel could transport in backpacks and assemble for launch within 10 minutes.

Operated remotely, it has a range of 15 kilometers, providing real-time intelligence to brigade or smaller-sized units.

First introduced in 2000, Aerostar is believed to be superior to the older Hermes-450. Aerostar, similar in appearance to popular Cessna aircraft, has an operational range of 200 kilometers, which can potentially put Armenia’s entire territory under surveillance.

Both the SS-21 and the other newly acquired missile systems and the UAVs provide a greater challenge than earlier systems did to the mostly ground-based Armenian air defenses. They may thus help tip the existing military balance and undermining the 14-year-old cease-fire.

Lukewarm international reaction

There has been no public Armenian or international reaction to systems shown in the militaristic display. Of major news outlets, only the Reuters news agency carried a report, pointing, as usual, to a potential disruption of 700,000 barrels a day in oil supplies should fighting resume.

Armenian Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Seyran Shahsuvaryan was not impressed, telling on June 28 that his agency viewed the parade as a “festivity” organized for the local population and foreign guests.

Since 1998 Azerbaijan has marked June 26 as a day of its army because on that day in 1918, the Ottoman Turkish army divisions advancing into the Caucasus and led by Nuri Pasha (younger brother of Enver Pasha, the Ottoman war minister) were renamed “Azerbaijani national army.”

In all, according to the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, the parade involved 25 combat aircraft (including several MiG-29s acquired in Ukraine), 19 helicopters, 31 navy vessels, and 210 units of ground equipment, including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled and towed artillery, and air defense systems. Various special forces and cadets of ground, air, and naval military academies were among about 4,500 personnel taking part.

Writing for Novosti-Azerbaijan on June 27, Azerbaijani journalist and Karabakh war veteran Kamal Ali could not hide his excitement.

“Even a quick look at the military equipment shown in the June 26 parade assures one of the offensive nature of Azerbaijan’s war machine,” he wrote. “Nearly all of this equipment was created for an effective attacks and annihilation of a defending opponent.”

Certainly, the parade last week did send a message to Armenia and cannot be treated solely as a “festivity.”

Equipment shown and the manner of its acquisition should have real military and political repercussions both for Armenian armed forces and foreign policy.

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