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Analysis : Armenian-Azeri fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh Tass 5040416

Defence & Security News - Azerbaijan Armenia
Analysis : Armenian-Azeri fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh
The aggravation of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh escalated into large-scale fighting on the night of April 2. Reports from the warzone have been conflicting. Azerbaijan says that it delivered a counterattack and seized a few hills and villages in Nagorno-Karabakh. In Baku’s opinion, its offensive took place in response to Armenian provocations on the night of April 2.
AnalysisArmenian Azeri fighting in Nagorno Karabakh 640 001Azeri soldiers (Photo
According to Baku, Azeri troops destroyed six enemy tanks, 15 artillery pieces and weapon emplacements and 100 troops, having lost 12 personnel and a Mil Mi-24 (NATO reporting name: Hind) attack helicopter as well as a tank that had hit a landmine.

Yerevan, in turn, has denounced the statement, saying Azerbaijan failed to make significant progress and the line of contact remained in place. The Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Ministry has reported 200 Azeri servicemen dead and two tanks and two unmanned aerial vehicles destroyed. The Armenian military lost 18 troops killed and 35 wounded during the fighting on the night of Saturday and during the day.

This has been the largest-scale fighting launched by Azerbaijan since the truce was restored in 1994.

At the request by TASS, military expert Mikhail Khodaryonok has analyzed the combat capabilities of the parties to the conflict.

Azerbaijan has been gearing up for war in earnest in recent years, importing much combat gear from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Israel, Turkey and South Africa. It has developed a defense industry of its own virtually from scratch, with it licence-producing armored cars and multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) and manufacturing small arms.

The Azeri Army on Azerbaijan’s mainland comprises four army corps, namely, the 1st Corps headquartered in Barda, 2nd Corps (Beilagan), 3rd Corps (Shamkir) and 4th Corps (Baku). They are comprised of the 130th, 161st, 171st, 172nd, 181st, 190th, 193rd, 701st (a.k.a. 1st), 702nd (2nd), 703rd (3rd), 706th (6th), 707th (7th), 708th (8th), 712th (12th) and 888th infantry brigades, 191st Mountain Brigade and 777th Special Forces Regiment. The Special Separate Field Army made up of three infantry brigades is stationed in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Region.

The Azeri Army’s inventory includes 12 upgraded Tochka-U (SS-21 Scarab) tactical ballistic missile systems, 100 latest Russian-made T-90S tanks and 379 T-72s (about 200 of the T-72 fleet has been mothballed), 88 BRDM-2 armored scout vehicles, 20 BMD-1 airborne infantry fighting vehicles (AIFV), 63 BMP-1 IFVs, 21 BRM-1 scout vehicles, 186 BMP-2 IFVs and about 90 BMP-3 IFVs. Its fleet of armored personnel carriers and armored cars is close to 1,000 - three Ukrainian-made BTR-3U (Azerbaijan decided against buying more of them), 40 BTR-60, 179-239 BTR-70, 33 BTR-80, 70 BTR-80A and 11 BTR-D APCs, 55 South African Matadors and 85 Marauders licence-produced in Azerbaijan, at least 35 Turkish-made Cobra armored cars and 393 MTLB lightly armored tracked platforms. More than half the fleet is in the inventory of the Interior Force and Border Guard, rather than the Azeri Army.

The Azeri Army’s field artillery has over 150 self-propelled artillery systems, including 29 2S9 Nonas, 18 2S31 Venas, 66 2S1 Gvozdikas, 16 2S3 Akatsiyas, 18 2S19 Mstas, five Israeli-made ATMOS-2000s and 15 2S7 Pions. The country intends to buy 36 Turkish-made T-155 Firtina SP systems (licence-produced South Korean K9 Thunder). The towed artillery fleet includes 199 D-30, 36 M-46, 16 2A36 and 24 D-20 weapons. There are 400 2B14 Podnos, 107 PM-38, 85 M-43 and 10 Israeli-made CARDOM mortars. Very close attention has been paid to developing rocket artillery that is indispensable to successful offensives, including breaking through the Armenian defenses. The Azeri Army operates 44 Soviet-made BM-21 Grad, 20 Turkish-manufactured T-122, 30 T-107, 20 TR-300, 18 Russian-made TOS-1A, 30 Smerch and six Israeli-built Lynx multi-caliber multiple-launch rocket systems. Its inventory also includes 100 Ukraine-supplied Skif, 100 Russia-exported Kornet, 150 Soviet-made Malyutka, 100 Fagot, 20 Konkurs and 10 Metis antitank guided missile (ATGM) systems.

Azerbaijan’s Army Air Defense (ADA) units operate three Buk-M1 (NATO reporting name: SA-17 Grizzly) AD missile battalions and 18 Belarusian-manufactured Buk-MB SAM launchers, an Israeli-made Barak-8 AD battalion (nine launchers), a battalion of obsolete Soviet-made Krug (SA-4 Ganef) SAM systems (27), 150 short-range systems (80 Osa (SA-8 Gecko) launchers, eight Belarusian-Ukrainian Tetraedrs, 54 Strela-10s (SA-13 Gopher), eight advanced Tors (SA-15 Gauntlet)), 300 Igla (SA-24 Grinch) and 18 Strela-3 (SA-14 Gremlin) man-portable air defense systems and 40 ZSU-23-4 Shilka SP antiaircraft guns (SPAAG).

The Azeri Air Force comprises the 843rd Composite Regiment at Kala air base, 461st Fighter-Bomber Squadron at Kurdamir AB, 408th Fighter Sqn (Zeinalabdin-Nasosny AB), 422nd Recce Sqn (Dallyar AB), 115th Training Sqn (Sangachal) and a transport squadron (Zeinalabdin-Nasosny AB). The service operates up to five Sukhoi Su-24 (Fencer) bombers, 33 Su-25 (Frogfoot, including four Su-25UB combat trainers) and up to five Su-17 (Fitter, one of them a Su-17U trainer) attack aircraft, 15 MiG-29 (Fulcrum, two combat trainers) and up to four MiG-21 (Fishbed, one more in the mothballs) fighters and 32 MiG-25 (Foxbat) interceptors. Only the MiG-29s and Su-25s are modern enough. Six MiG-25PD interceptors and four MiG-25RB reconnaissance planes have been upgraded. The readiness of the rest of the aircraft fleet is questionable. Most probably, AzAF has decommissioned all of its Su-24s, Su-17s, MiG-21s and most of the MiG-25s with no chance for comeback. AzAF also operates two Ilyushin Il-76 (Candid) airlifters (one more is mothballed), up to 23 Aero Vodochody L-39 trainers, over 50 attack helicopters (27 Mi-24s, 24 latest Mi-35Ms) and around 100 utility and transport ones (up to 82 Mi-17s (Hip) and Mi-8, seven Mi-2 (Hoplite), six Kamov Ka-27 (Helix) and Ka-32s).

The Azeri point air defense assets include two S-300PMU-2 (SA-10 Grumble) missile battalions (16 launchers), an S-200 (SA-5 Gammon) missile battalion (four launchers) and about 13 S-125 (SA-3 Goa) battalions.

The Azeri Navy operates the ships and boats inherited from the Soviet Navy’s Caspian Flotilla and beefed up with Turkish- and US-built patrol boats. The largest one is an obsolete Project 159A frigate. The navy is heavily obsolete and lacks missile systems. It is the weakest one in the Caspian. Possibly, it will be somewhat improved by the construction of six patrol ships of Israeli design OPV-62, which will carry Israeli-made Spike guided missiles.

The Armenian Armed Forces are the best among the three militaries of the trans-Caucasian states in terms of combat readiness and morale, but the smallest as far as their personnel strength is concerned. The latter applies to the official armed forces, because the Nagorno-Karabakh Army is integrated with the Armenian one, though its overall strengths is unknown.

Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and has provided a company for its Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF). However, the country cannot participate in CSTO’s activities in earnest due to its geographic location [sandwiched between Georgia and Azerbaijan]. Its actual link with CSTO is in the form of Russia’s 102nd Military Base stationed in Armenia.

The Armenian Army consists of five army corps.

The 1st Corps headquartered in Goris comprises the 2nd Infantry Brigade (Goris, with some of its units garrisoned in Karakhanbeili), 522nd (Sisian) and 539th (Agarak) infantry regiments, a tank battalion, a cavalry squadron and a logistic battalion.

The 2nd Corps (Karchakhlyur) consists of the 555th Infantry Regiment, a tank battalion, a cavalry squadron and an artillery battalion.

The 3rd Corps (Vanadzor) has the 3rd (Vanadzor), 246th (Ijevan), 543rd (Noyamberyan) and 549th (Chambarak) infantry regiments, a tank battalion, a signal battalion, a cavalry squadron, an MLRS battalion and a tube artillery battalion.

The 4th Corps (Yeghegnadzor) is organized with the 527th Infantry Regiment in Vaik, a SP artillery battalion and a signal battalion.

The 5th Corps (Nubarashen) comprises the 9th Fortified Area and 4th (Yerevan) and 545th (Nubarashen) infantry regiments.

In addition, the Armenian Army includes the 535th Training Brigade in Berd, 23rd Special Forces Brigade, missile, field artillery, SAM and radar brigades (one each), infantry, SP artillery and antitank artillery regiments (one each), the 531st AD Regiment, signal, combat engineer and logistic regiments (one each) and the 7th Fortified Area in Gyumri. In addition to the units of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, there are the 83rd Infantry Brigade (Dashkesan) and 538th Infantry Regiment stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh and in the adjacent area of Azerbaijan, which Nagorno-Karabakh controls.

The Armenian Army operates eight R-17 (SS-1C Scud-B) tactical ballistic missile systems (32 missiles) and at least two Tochka missile launchers. Its tank fleet consist of 137 T-72s and eight T-55s. The service operates 120 BRDM-2 armored scout cars, 12 BRM-1K command vehicles, 10 BMD-1 AIFVs, 159 BMP-1 IFVs, eight BMP-1K command IFVs, five BMP-2 IFVs, over 200 APCs (six BTR-152s, 19 BTR-60s, 54 BTR-70s, 114 BTR-80s) and about 40 MTLB tracked utility vehicles. A sizeable portion of the BRM-1K, BMP-1 and BTR-152/60/70 fleet is assigned to the Interior Force and Border Guard, rather than the Army, but the latter will automatically take them over in case of war. The Armenian Army’s field artillery comprises 38 howitzers (10 2S1s, 28 2S3s), 145 towed guns (85 D-30s, 26 2A36s, 34 D-20s, two D-1s), about 80 mortars (19 PM-38s, about 62 M-43s) and 51 MLRS’s - 47 BM-21s and four WM-80s (Armenia is the only country to operate the WM-80 in addition to their manufacturer, China). Smerch and TOS-1As are to be imported from Russia in the near future.

The Armenian Army also has nine to 20 Malyutka, 12 Fagot and 10 Konkurs ATGM systems, 27 Shturm-S SP ATGM systems, 71 antitank rifles (35 D-44s, 36 MT-12s). Its ADA employs six to nine Osa, 48 Strela-10 and 30 Strela-1 SAM systems, around 200 Strela-2 (SA-7 Grail) and 90 Igla MANPADS and 48 ZSU-23 Shilka SPAAGs. An agreement with Russia has been reached for the delivery of extra Igla-S MANPADS.

The Armenian Air/Air Defense Force comprises three air bases (Gyumri, Arzni, Erebuni), an air detachment, the 96th AD Brigade and two AD regiments. The service operates 15 Su-25 attack aircraft, including two Su-25UB combat trainers, possibly, a MiG-25PD interceptor, three Il-76 and six Antonov An-2 (Colt) transports and, possibly, an An-24 (Cock) and an An-32 (Cline). Its trainer aircraft fleet is made up of six L-39s, 10-14 Yakovlev Yak-52s, a Yak-55 and about five Yak-18Ts (Max). The rotary-wing aircraft in the inventory are 12 Mi-24 (eight Mi-24V/Ps, two Mi-24RAs, two Mi-24Ks) attack helicopters, 11-20 Mi-8/17 and eight to nine Mi-2 utility helicopters and two Mi-9 airborne command post rotorcraft. The point and ADA assets include three S-300PT and two S-300PS missile battalions (36 and 24 launchers respectively), an S-75 (SA-2 Guideline) battalion (six launchers), five S-125 battalions (20 launchers) and three Krug SAM systems (27 launchers).

The personnel and materiel strength of the Nagorno-Karabakh Army is anybody’s guess. Probably, it has 140 T-72 and 34 T-55 tanks, five BRM-1K command IFVs, 80 BMP-1 IFVs, 152 BMP-2 IFVs, nine BTR-70 APCs, 12 2S1 and 12 2S3 SP howitzers, about 100 M-30 and D-30, 16 D-1, around 50 D-20 and 2A36 guns, 24 BM-21 MLRS’s, at least six Shturm-S SP ATGM systems, at least six BRDM-2 armored scout vehicles fitted with Konkurs ATGM systems, at least six Osa SAM systems and ZSU-23 Shilka SPAAGs each, and several Strela-10 SAM systems.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Air/Air Defense Force is believed to have an S-300PS missile battalion, a Kub battalion, five to six Krug SAM batteries (15-18 launchers), two Su-25 attack aircraft and three Mi-24 attack and five Mi-8 utility helicopters. It is quite possible that a large part of the aforesaid Armenian S-75, S-125 and Krug battalions have been given to the Nagorno-Karabakh sister service.

Overall, the combined capabilities of the Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh militaries, including the fortifications available and the high combat skills and morale of their troops are enough to repel an attack by the Azeri Armed Forces. However, trends are not favorable to Armenia. Azerbaijan’s economic capabilities are stronger. It has overwhelming air superiority even now, which is counterbalanced by the strong Armenian/Nagorno-Karabakh air defenses for now.

There is Russia’s 102nd Military Base in the Armenian city of Gyumri. It comprises the 123rd, 124th and 128th motor-rifle regiments, 992nd and 988th AD regiments, 3624th Air Base at Erebuni airfield, etc. The base’s inventory comprises about 100 T-72 tanks, around 150 BMP-1 and -2 IFVs and BTR-70 and -80 APCs each, 18 2S1 SP howitzers, 18 D-30 howitzers, 27 BM-37 mortars, 18 BM-21 Grad and BM-30 Smerch MLRS’s, 12 BRDM-2-mounted Konkurs ATGM systems, 12 MT-12 antitank guns, a battalion of S-300V (SA-12 Gladiator/Giant) and Buk-M1 (SA-17 Grizzly) SAM systems each, six Strela-10 SAM systems, six ZSU-23 Shilka SPAAGs, 18 MiG-29 fighters (including two MiG-29UB combat trainers) and Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters (eight each).

However, the probability of the 102nd Military Base joining the fight for Nagorno-Karabakh is rather low, while a new Armenian-Azeri war may very quickly escalate into an armed confrontation between Russia and Turkey. The Turkish president has voiced his support for and solidarity with Azerbaijan on the day the conflict began, and his support maybe not only verbal one, depending on how the situation unfolds.
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