Armenian Military

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Units of the Armenian army operating in field exercises.

The Armenian military influenced by the requirements of supporting the forces of Nagorno-Karabakh against Azerbaijan and the long-term objective of military self-reliance, Armenia has worked toward making the Armenian Army a small, well-balanced, combat-ready defense force. Chief architects of the force were General Norat Ter-Grigoriants, a former Soviet deputy chief of staff who became overall commander of the new Armenian Army; Vazgan Sarkisian, named the first minister of defense; and Vazgan Manukian, who replaced Sarkisian in 1992.

As expressed by the military establishment during the planning stage, Armenia's military doctrine called for maintenance of defensive self-sufficiency that would enable its army to repel an attack by forces from Azerbaijan or Turkey, or both. That concept was refuted, however, by radical nationalists who advocated a more aggressive posture, similar to that of the Israeli army in defending a "surrounded" land, maintaining the armed forces at a high degree of readiness to inflict crippling losses on an enemy within days. Both doctrines emphasized small, highly mobile, well-trained units. The specific outcome of the debate over military doctrine has been concealed as a matter of national security. However, Armenia apparently surpassed its initial goal of 30,000 soldiers on active duty, achieving an estimated troop strength by early 1994 of 35,000. By that time, the Ministry of Defense had increased its goal to a standing army of 50,000, to be supplemented in wartime by a reserve call-up.

A top defense priority in 1994 was improving control of the Zangezur region, the vulnerable, far southeastern corridor bordering Iran and flanked by Azerbaijan's Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and Azerbaijan proper. The program for Zangezur includes new military installations, especially on the Iranian border, as well as a new bridge and a new natural gas pipeline into Iran.

The army and the Ministry of Defense have structures similar to those of their counterparts in the former Soviet Union, except that the highest organizational level of the Armenian forces is a smaller unit, the brigade, rather than the traditional division, to maximize maneuverability. Plans call for brigades of 1,500 to 2,500 troops to be divided into three or four battalions, in the manner of the paramilitary forces of the Karabakh Armenians.

Light armor in the Armenian army is complemented with several variants which serve in both ground attack and air defense roles. Above, BRDM-2s on parade in the city's main square.

Regular Forces

In 1992 the Ministry of Defense appealed to Armenian officers who had had commissions in the Soviet army to help form the new force to defend their homeland against Azerbaijan and to build a permanent national army. Although substantial special benefits were offered, the new professional officer corps was not staffed as fully as hoped in its first two years. In especially short supply were officer specialists in military organizational development--a critical need in the army\'s formative stage. In 1994 most Armenian officers still were being trained in Russia; the first 100 Armenian-trained officers were to be commissioned in the spring of 1994. Plans called for officer training to begin in 1995 at a new national military academy.

Eighteen-year-old men constitute the primary pool of conscripts. New trainees generally are not sent into combat positions. The Armenian public was hostile to conscription in the Soviet period; the practice of assigning Armenian recruits to all parts of the Soviet Union prompted large demonstrations in Erevan. That attitude continued in the post-Soviet period. In the first two years of the new force, recruitment fell far short of quotas. The draft of the fall of 1992, for example, produced only 71 percent of the quota, and widespread evasion was reported.

T-72 tank on parade during the May 9, 2007 parade celebrating the liberation of Shushi.

Conscripts generally lack equipment and advanced training, and some units are segregated by social class. Officer elitism and isolation are also problems, chiefly because the first language of most officers is Russian. Desertion rates in 1992-93 were extremely high. In early 1994, the defense establishment considered formalizing the status of the large number of volunteers in the army by introducing a contract service system.

In 1992 the republic established the Babajanian Military Boarding School, which admitted qualified boys aged fourteen to sixteen for training, leading to active military service. By agreement with Russian military institutions, graduates could continue training in Russia at the expense of the Armenian Ministry of Defense. A class of 100 was expected to graduate in 1994. The lack of military training schools is rated as a serious problem. Armenian cadets and junior officers study at military schools in Russia and other CIS states, and senior officers spend two to three years at academies in Russia and Belarus. A military academy for all armed services was in the planning stage in 1994.

The Karabakh Self-Defense Army consists mostly of Armenians from Karabakh or elsewhere in Azerbaijan, plus some volunteers from Armenia and mercenaries who formerly were Soviet officers. The Karabakh forces reportedly are well armed with Kalashnikov rifles, armor, and heavy artillery, a high percentage of which was captured from Azerbaijani forces or obtained from Soviet occupation troops. Significant arms and matériel support also came from Armenia, often at the expense of the regular army. By 1994 the Karabakh Self-Defense Army was building an infrastructure of barracks, training centers, and repair depots. Defeats that Armenians inflicted on Azerbaijan in 1993 were attributed by experts largely to the self-defense forces, although regular Armenian forces also were involved.

The Armenian air defense forces, virtually nonexistent in 1991, were equipped and organized as part of the military reform program of Ter-Grigoriants. Total air defense strength was estimated at 2,000 troops in 1994. The new military aviation program of the air force has been bolstered by the recruitment of Soviet-trained Armenian pilots, and new pilots receive training at the Aviation Training Center, run by the Ministry of Defense. Some modern training aircraft are available at the center. Pilots receive special housing privileges, although their pay is extremely low. Some Soviet-made Mi-8, Mi-9, and Mi-24 helicopters are available to support ground troops, but only one squadron of aircraft was rated combat-ready in 1994. Most of Armenia\'s fixedwing aircraft, inherited from the Soviet Union, were unavailable because of poor maintenance.


An Armenian patrol maintaining a checkpoint in Kosovo. The platoon sized unit of three squads has been serving in Kosovo as a part of the KFOR peacekeeping force since February 2004.

After independence the Soviet-era Volunteer Society for Assistance to the Army, Air Force, and Navy (see Glossary), part of the centralized reserve system of the Soviet army, was renamed the Defense Technical Sports Society. The new system trains personnel for specific military tasks in the Armenian forces, whereas previous training was a general preparation for unknown assignments elsewhere in the Soviet Union. In 1993 the society's schools gave instruction in thirteen military occupational specialties, including tank driving and repair, radiotelegraphy, and artillery and small arms repair.

Like those of the regular military, the facilities of the reserves were cut back sharply at independence. At least nine reserve training facilities, including one technical school, were reassigned within the Ministry of Defense or to another ministry. The Defense Technical Sports Society supports itself by selling military gear and sports vehicles produced in its plants; it has established advisory relations with defense technical societies in other CIS countries.

The Russian Role

After Armenian independence, Russia retained control of the Russian 7th Army in Armenia, which numbered about 23,000 personnel in mid-1992. At that time, the 7th Army included three motorized rifle divisions. In the second half of 1992, substantial parts of two divisions--the 15th Division and the 164th Division--were transferred to Armenian control. The other division remained intact and under full Russian command at Gyumri in early 1994. Meanwhile, Russia completed withdrawal of the four divisions of its 4th Army from Azerbaijan in May 1993. Some Armenian warrant officers were assigned to the division at Gyumri, and the two countries discussed assignment of Armenian recruits to Russian units.

The Russian presence continued in 1994, with an operational command in Erevan providing engineer, communications, logistics, aviation, and training capabilities. Under the 1992 Treaty on Collective Security, which apportioned Soviet weaponry among the former Soviet republics, Armenia was allotted 180 T-72 tanks, 180 BMP-1K armored fighting vehicles, sixty BTR-60 and BTR-70 armored personnel carriers, twenty-five BRM-1K armored fighting vehicles, thirty 9P-138 and 9P-148 guided missiles, and 130 artillery pieces and mortars. An unknown number of weapons systems in the Osa, Strela, Igla, and Shilka classes were also designated for transfer. Much of this equipment was no longer serviceable by the time it was turned over, however. Significant amounts of military equipment ranging from small arms to armor and artillery was captured from Azerbaijan by the joint Armenia/Artsakh forces during the Artsakh war. This materiel boosted what the Republic of Armenia had in its military inventory, and made up the main part of the MK Republic's arsenal. Since the 1994 cease fire, all three sides of the conflict are continuing to acquire military equipment. However, due to its petroleum export revenues, Azerbaijan has spent the most on new hardware and it is suspected that it has surpassed the limit of equipment imposed by the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. If one calculates the kill ratio in the Artsakh war out of the approximately 30,000 aggregate casualties, the ratio is 1 : 5 in favor of the joint Armenian forces (to remind, the kill ratio was 1:16 in favor of the U.S. in Vietnam). For every Armenian soldier killed in action, 5 Azeri soldiers died, since Armenian losses were roughly 6,000 soldiers and for Azerbaijan they were roughly 22-24,000. Judging by how poorly Armenian forces were equipped especially in the early years of the War, this superior kill ratio can only be attributed to the superior Armenian command structure and motivation of the individual soldier. Whats more, not only did Azerbaijan have vastly more numerous war materiel, but also employed several thousand foreign mercenaries, from professional Russian and Ukrainian pilots and tank crews, to the semi-irregular mujahideen from Afghanistan, Chechnya (Shamil Basayev's battalion) and Pan-Turko/Pan-Islamic fighters in smaller numbers from Central Asia, the Balkans and the Middle East. If there is to be a revival of hostilities, casualties on both sides are sure to continue. The opening stage of armed action will be dictated by intensive artillery and air bombardment, since both sides have prepared extensive defensive structures and fortifications, such as bunkers, minefields and anti-tank ditches, making large land offensives very costly for the initiator, at least in the first week while artillery does away with whats been built up. Then the real work shall begin, as each side brings its mobile units (armor, self propelled howitzers and mechanized infantry) into maneuver. Base data obtained from


December, 2004 - Armenia's parliament voted Friday to send 46 non-combat troops to Iraq, a move that was backed by President Robert Kocharian but drew sharp criticism from many Armenians and opposition groups. After more than seven hours of debate behind closed doors, lawmakers in the National Assembly voted 91-23, with one abstention, to send the contingent, which will include bomb-disposal experts, doctors, and transport specialists.