Armenian Military

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Units of the Armenian army operating in field exercises.

The Armenian military both supports the forces of Nagorno-Karabakh and the long-term objective of Armenian 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; Vazgen Sarkisian, named the first minister of defense; and Vazgen 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 fixed wing 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. Base data obtained from


Armenian currently has 70 troops serving in a NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.


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. On Tuesday, October, 7, 2008, Armenia ended its military presence in Iraq. Major-General Arshaluys Paytian, the deputy chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, said both developments were instrumental in Yerevan’s decision to follow Poland’s example to withdraw forces. “Since our contingent served in Iraq as part of the Polish-led military detachment and since the need for peace-keeping activity in Iraq is gradually declining … our part of the peacekeeping mission is deemed to have been accomplished,” he said.

Armenia has lost no soldiers and seen only one serviceman seriously wounded in Iraq. Lieutenant Georgi Nalbandian had a leg amputated as a result.

Armenian Military To Draft Students

By Anush Martirosian

The Armenian government intends to abolish temporary exemptions from military service that have long been enjoyed by university students, a senior lawmaker confirmed on Monday.

Armenian law has until now allowed draft-age men enrolled in state-run universities to perform the two-year compulsory service after completing their undergraduate and/or graduate studies.

Reports in the Armenian press have said that the government has drafted legal amendments that will scrap the deferments. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and other top government officials have pointedly declined to refute those reports.

Armen Ashotian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament’s committee on science, education and youth affairs, went farther, indicating that the amendments’ submission to the National Assembly is a matter of time. He argued that Armenia’s conscription-based army will increasingly face personnel shortages as it begins to draft young men born in the early 1990s.

The country’s population and birth rate sharply declined during those years because of the collapse of the Armenian economy and the resulting mass out-migration of hundreds of thousands of its citizens.

“The draft is reaching [those born during] the years of the so-called demographic slump,” said Ashotian. He said the government and the National Assembly should put in place financial and other incentives that would encourage demobilized soldiers to complete their higher education.

Vahan Shirkhanian, an opposition politician who had served as deputy defense minister throughout the 1990s, criticized the planned measure, saying it does not represent a fundamental solution to the problem. He said the loss of more mature university graduates, who are typically trained to become sergeants during their service, would hit the army hard.

Shirkhanian told RFE/RL that instead of drafting 18-year-old students the authorities should increase the number of military personnel serving on a contractual basis. “This is the only way of strengthening Armenia’s army,” he said.

The percentage of volunteer soldiers serving in Armenia’s Armed Forces has already risen significantly over the past decade.


Artur Aghabekian, a retired army general who chairs the Armenian parliament’s committee on defense and security, on October, 14, 2008, spoke out against government plans to abolish temporary exemptions from military service enjoyed by university students.


Armenia To Seek ‘Long-Range’ Weapons
Sargis Harutyunyan

Armenia plans to acquire long-range precision-guided weapons and will be ready to use them in possible armed conflicts with hostile neighbors, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said on Tuesday.

The announcement followed a meeting of an Armenian government commission on national security that tentatively approved two programs envisaging a modernization of the country’s Armed Forces. One of the documents deals with army weaponry, while the other details measures to develop the domestic defense industry.

“These are extremely important programs,” Ohanian told journalists. “Their implementation will qualitatively improve the level of the Armed Forces in the short and medium terms.”

“The two programs envisage both the acquisition of state-of-the-art weapons and their partial manufacturing by the local defense industry,” he said. “The main directions are the expansion of our long-range strike capacity and the introduction of extremely precise systems, which will allow us to minimize the enemy’s civilian casualties during conflicts.”

“Their application will also allow us to thwart free enemy movements deep inside the entire theater of hostilities,” added the minister. He did not specify whether Yerevan will be seeking to have surface-to-surface missiles capable of hitting any target in Azerbaijan.

The Armenian military is believed to be already equipped with short-range tactical missiles. But little is known about their type and technical characteristics. The army command gave a rare glimpse of such weaponry in September 2006 when it demonstrated new rockets with a firing range of up to 110 kilometers during a military parade in Yerevan.

Ohanian did not deny that the modernization plan is connected with the persisting risk of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh. “You know what kind of a region we live in and how dependent we are during the escalation of conflicts,” he said. “We are therefore forced to do such work.”

It was not immediately clear whether Yerevan’s desire to get hold of more powerful weapons is connected with a new Russian-Armenian military agreement expected to be signed soon. The agreement will reportedly take the form of significant changes in a 1995 treaty regulating the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia.

Official Russian and Armenian sources have said that those changes would extend that presence and assign the base a greater role in ensuring Armenia’s security. A relevant Russian government document cited by the Interfax news agency late last month also makes clear that Moscow will commit itself to providing its South Caucasus ally with “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.”

Artur Baghdasarian, the secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council who chaired Tuesday’s meeting together with Ohanian, confirmed this last week. “There exist joint projects on this matter and we will be consistently implementing them,” he told the Regnum news agency.

Earlier in July, Armenia and Russia announced plans to significantly step up cooperation between their defense industries after talks between their top security officials held in Yerevan. Baghdasarian reiterated on Tuesday the agreements reached during the “extremely important” talks envisage, among other things, the establishment of Russian-Armenian defense joint ventures.

That was followed by Russian media reports that Moscow has agreed to sell sophisticated S-300 air-defense systems to Azerbaijan in a $300 million deal that could affect the balance of forces in the Karabakh conflict. Russian defense officials have made conflicting statements about the veracity of the information, adding to concerns expressed by Armenian pundits and politicians.

Ohanian on Tuesday commented evasively on the possible S-300 sale. “I think that acquisition of any new weaponry will have a certain impact on the balance of forces [in the Karabakh conflict,] but want to remind that the S-300 systems are defensive systems,” he said. “At the same time, we can’t say we have information about their possible purchase [by Azerbaijan.]”

Armenian Army Modernization ‘On Track’

Sargis Harutyunyan 30.01.2012

Armenia is successfully implementing a five-year government plan to modernize its armed forces with long-range weapons and other hardware, the country’s two top military officials insisted over the weekend.

“We have been enhancing our military capacity with arms acquisitions in recent years,” said Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian. “One of the main directions of our reforms is a switch to strategic defense planning, which includes a program of developing weapons and military equipment.”

“According to that development program, every year until 2015 we will be acquiring new weapons that will be long-range and very precise. They will enable us to achieve the objectives set for the army,” he told journalists.

​​The still unpublicized program was approved by President Serzh Sarkisian’s National Security Council in December 2010. Officials said at the time that it envisages, among other things, the acquisition of long-range precision-guided weapons. The types, quantity and source of those weapons remain unknown.

Colonel-General Yuri Khachaturov, chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, also spoke of an ongoing military build-up in separate comments to journalists at the Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan. He said the military is planning more arms acquisitions for the coming years but did not elaborate.

Armenia demonstrated at least some of its long-range weapons for the first time during a military parade in Yerevan last September. Those included Russian-made 9K72 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, known in the West as Scud-B, and S-300 surface-to-air missiles.

Designed for the Soviet army in the 1960s, Scud-Bs have a firing range of up to 300 kilometers, putting virtually all strategic facilities in Armenia’s arch-foe Azerbaijan within their reach. The Armenian military was thought to have possessed them since the late 1990s.

The parade also confirmed its possession of more short-range but precise Tochka-U ballistic missiles with a NATO reporting name of SS-21 Scarab-B. Azerbaijan also demonstrated Scarab-Bs during its own military parade held in June.

The shows of force highlighted an intensifying arms race between the two nations. Over the past decade Azerbaijan has spent billions of dollars in oil revenues on a massive military build-up which it hopes will eventually help it to win back Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia is seeking to stay in the race with close military ties with Russia that entitle it to receiving Russian weapons at discount prices or even free of charge. A new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in August 2010 commits Moscow to helping Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.”

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service ( in February 2011, Ohanian said that his forces received “unprecedented” quantities of modern weaponry in 2010 and will continue the build-up in 2011.

Ohanian and Khachaturov, who both played major roles in the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, laid flowers at Yerablur on Saturday as part of official ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the official establishment of the Armenian Armed Forces.

“I’m very happy that we have held on to what we gained 20 years ago and we keep doing that well,” said Khachaturov. “We have changed. We have become a tough army. We have gained a lot of new weaponry. But our main wealth is our young officers.”

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