Azerbaijan will beef up its marine fleet after receiving ultra-modern Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) response crafts and a range of navy equipment from a leading US-based marine company, worth more than $7 million.
The contract was announced on Aug. 4, 2020, for United States Marine Inc., Gulfport, Mississippi, for $7,572,364. The delivery order is for the construction and delivery of 15 explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) unarmed multi-use EOD response craft, road trailers, engine diagnostic equipment, forward looking infrared systems, vessel spare parts, and other technical assistance, funded by Title 10 U.S. Code 333 authority to build foreign security forces capacity. This U.S.-appropriated funding will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
“Work will be performed in Gulfport, Mississippi and is expected to be completed by April 2022,” according to Navy Recognition. “Foreign Military Sales funding in the amount of $7,572,364 will be obligated at time of award and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, DC, is the contracting activity.”
The crafts are designed to be used for harbor patrol, passenger transport, diving operations, evacuations and unmanned system operations.
Alexander Tikhanski, a military expert based in Belarus, says military-technical cooperation with the world's leading arms companies allows Azerbaijan to actively modernize its Armed Forces.
“Azerbaijan has spent $3.7 billion on its army at the peak of equipment purchases. At present, the Azerbaijani army is the strongest in the region after Russia and Turkey,” Tikhanski said.
The government of Azerbaijan allocated $2.27 billion for military and national security purposes in the 2020 state budget. The amount is six times higher than military spending in Georgia and three times higher than Armenia. It is ranked 64th among the 138 countries of the world and is the strongest in the South Caucasus region, according to data compiled by independent military data tracker Global Firepower. Azerbaijan's naval force includes one frigate, four submarines, seven mine warfare and 13 patrol boats, among other assets.
The United States Marine Inc. is not the first American defense company to secure a procurement deal with Azerbaijan. In September 2019, the Virginia-based VSE Corporation was awarded a $10 million contract to supply the Caspian country’s military with counterterrorism and intelligence equipment.
Azerbaijan is a strategically important US partner in the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea region due to its strategic location in Eurasia and has proven to be a reliable energy exporter to Washington’s allies in Europe, as well as a loyal NATO partner.
Additionally, Azerbaijan was one of the first countries to provide assistance to the US in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. Azerbaijani troops have been part of NATO peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan since 2002 and even opened its airspace to US-led coalition troops fighting there.
When the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission was launched in January 2015, Baku increased its contribution from 94 soldiers to 120. Azerbaijan is the only country out of the five Caspian Sea nations to contribute to this mission and 40 percent of the non-military supplies to US and coalition forces in Afghanistan passes through Azerbaijani territory.
Washington provides US security assistance and military contact programs in Azerbaijan, including the Foreign Military Sales (FMS), through the Office of Defense Cooperation Azerbaijan. Under the FMS program, Washington provides defense equipment, services and training to Azerbaijan.
Between 2018 and 2019, Azerbaijan's State Border Service and State Customs Committee received security and defense assistance worth $101.5 million from the US through the Department of Defense’s Section 333 program, according to Security Assistance Monitor, a Washington DC watchdog.
The assistance package included 59 high-speed boats and other maritime equipment, 60 ATV motorcycles and other vehicles, 401 surveillance radar and other electronic equipment and 450,516 tactical vests and other individual equipment.
Strengthening its defense capabilities is a key priority for the Azerbaijani government, given its ongoing conflict with Armenia in Azerbaijan's internationally recognized Nagorno-Karabakh region. Following a full-scale war between the two countries from 1991-1994, Armenia occupied the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent districts which comprise 20 percent of Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territory. The bloody war claimed the lives of 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis, while one million were displaced forcibly from their homes amidst occupation and mass ethnic cleansing campaigns by Armenia's forces.
Since then, Armenia has repeatedly ignored international calls and UN Security Council Resolutions calling for the withdrawal of its occupying forces from Azerbaijani lands. Armenia's army also regularly targets Azerbaijani positions and civilian areas, in a direct violation of the 1994 ceasefire agreement between the two countries.