The Georgian Armed Forces will gradually be replacing Soviet-made machine guns with their modern NATO-standard analogues, a US-manufactured M240 rifle.
“We are glad to be able to equip Georgian Armed Forces with the M-240 type weapon, said the US Ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly at a ceremony dedicated to the second anniversary of the NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Centre (JTEC) on Tuesday in Krtsanisi, just outside Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.
“This is a standard weapon that is used in the NATO Armed Forces. This will further support Georgia’s integration with NATO,” Kelly added.
The M240, considered a general-purpose machine gun that has been used by the US military since the 1970s, was demonstrated at the JTEC on Tuesday. Inaugurated in 2015, the JTEC is a joint NATO-Georgian operation meant to assist the post-Soviet, Black Sea coastal state with modernizing and strengthening its security and defense capabilities.
As part of a broad effort to bring Georgia’s institutions in line with European and NATO standards, Tbilisi has been gradually getting rid of old-fashioned and obsolete weaponry, including 1960’s-era Soviet-made RPK-74 light and PKM general-purpose machine guns. Some weaponry currently used, like the DShK heavy machine gun, dates to 1938.
Georgia’s armaments currently include, however, the American-manufactured heavy machine gun M2HB and M134 rotary mini-gun. The 43rd Battalion of the IV Mechanized Brigade of the Georgian Armed Forces will be the first unit to get NATO-standard arms under the Georgia Defense Readiness Program, designed to strengthen combat capability and increase Georgian armed forces’ battle-readiness.
“We feel the greatest support from NATO,” said Georgia’s Minister of Defense Levan Izoria at Tuesday’s ceremony, thanking the alliance’s member states for their support. Izoria noted that full NATO membership is Georgia’s final goal.
Defense cooperation between Georgia and NATO is based on the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package (SNGP), a series of measures agreed to in 2014 and aimed at strengthening Georgia’s three military branches and fostering closer ties with western defense institutions. Ground cooperation between NATO and Georgian forces is conducted through the JTEC, where multi-national training exercises are held.
Georgia and NATO conducted joint drills at the JTEC from November 10 – 20 last year, in which 250 servicemen from 13 countries including 11 NATO member states joined hundreds of Georgian military personnel.
“Georgia is in the final stages of becoming a full-fledged NATO member,” said Shair Ramaldanov, a military expert based in Baku. “The modernization of its armament may serve to accelerate Georgia’s NATO integration process,” Ramaldanov told Caspian News, saying that phasing out Soviet equipment may be based upon technological necessity.
“The coexistence of both Western and Soviet weaponry within Georgia’s armament may, to some extent, be impractical. This is not necessarily meant to be a snub at Russia or any other power in the region,” Ramaldanov said.
Georgia has actively contributed to NATO-led operations, including campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and regularly cooperates with its allies. In turn, NATO has supported Georgia’s defense and institutional reform efforts, which are in pursuit of the country’s goal to integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions.