Combat readiness is central to Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces, which will be conducting exercises beginning today and lasting throughout this week, according to a statement issued by the defense ministry on March 9.
Up to 25,000 personnel will be involved in the exercises, which are meant to ensure troops “can carry out tasks to prevent the enemy from attacking, suppress the enemy with fire, restore defense along advantageous frontiers by inflicting counterstrikes and conduct a large-scale counteroffensive operation.”
The exercises will see the mobilization of as many as 250 tanks and other armored vehicles, possibly 1,000 missiles and artillery systems, multiple rocket and mortar systems, and up to 50 army and front-line aviation units. The exercises are being overseen by Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister Colonel-General Zakir Hasanov.
While the ministry’s announcement does not specify the exact nature of preparing for an enemy attack, nor defining a potential enemy, it is no secret that Azerbaijan’s foe is its western neighbor, Armenia.
The two sides fought a war over Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies fully inside Azerbaijan and has been claimed by Armenia since the two countries gained independence from the Soviet Union, after its collapse in December 1991. Since that time, Armenia has managed to occupy Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts, together which comprise roughly 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s landmass.
While the two countries agreed to pursue ceasefire in 1994, regular fire along the Line of Contact – the perimeter that separates Azerbaijan army from those areas of the country currently under Armenian occupation – is not unheard of. Just over two days of the last week, the defense ministry reported that Armenian troops fired at Azerbaijani positions more than 200 times.
Azerbaijan boasts the strongest army in the South Caucasus today, and has the largest defense budget. For 2018, $1.61 billion has been allocated for defense or $660.5 million more than the 2017. That amount will be divided among three major branches and associated forces of the army: Land Forces, the Air and Air Defense Force, and Navy; the National Guard, the State Border Service, and the Internal Troops of Azerbaijan.
Global Firepower, an independent website that provides rankings of national militaries around the world based on the U.S. government data, ranked Azerbaijan’s forces 58 amongst 133 countries in its 2017 report. Its military currently consists of 374,500 active duty and reserve personnel, 135 aircraft, 93 helicopters, 520 combat tanks, 1,590 armored fighting vehicles and 31 navy vessels, which patrol the Caspian Sea.
The United States, Turkey, Israel, Germany, China and Russia are the main suppliers of Azerbaijan’s military arsenal, equipping the South Caucasus and Caspian region country with assault and sniper rifles, machine guns, pistols, grenade launchers, anti-tank missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Russia has also been supplying heavy armored military equipment to Azerbaijan since 2013 based on a $1 billion deal that was signed as a series of contracts in 2010 and 2011. The arms package includes around 100 T-90C tanks, Smerch and TOS-1A multiple rocket launchers and Msta-A and Vena artillery cannons. The latest batch of Russian weaponry delivered to Azerbaijan was on January 19, which included an undisclosed model of an armored vehicle.
Azerbaijan manufactures some its own arms, however, including the Istiglal and Mubariz-12.7 anti-materiel rifles, YIRTIJI-7.62 and Yalguzag sniper rifles, and vehicles such as the Tufan mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle.
The last time Azerbaijan’s armed forces held exercises was in September, which involved a smaller number of units: 15,000 personnel, 150 tanks and armored vehicles, 120 missiles and artillery systems.