The Armenian armed forces simulated missile strikes on military targets as well as oil and gas installations in Azerbaijan during major exercises held this month, a top military official in Yerevan said on Monday.
The two-week “strategic” exercises, which drew to a close at the weekend, took place in undisclosed locations in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in a mostly “command-and-staff” format. According to the Armenian military, they involved over 40,000 troops and thousands of pieces of military hardware. The participating personnel included a record-high number of army reservists.
“We simulated strikes against both army units and military facilities of the probable enemy and … economic facilities that influence, in one way or another, the military capacity of its armed forces,” said Major-General Artak Davtian, head of the operational department at the Armenian army’s General Staff.
“There would be no strikes on the civilian population, we are not planning or playing out such a war scenario,” he told journalists. “We do not plan any strikes on cities. Our targets are military and economic facilities that are essential to a particular state.”
“In particular, I can stress that we modeled several strikes on oil and gas infrastructures, energy carriers that would affect the economy,” Davtian added in a clear reference to oil-rich Azerbaijan.
The general did not specify the type of long-range weapons used in the apparently computerized simulations. He said only that Armenia’s missile systems have a firing range of more than 300 kilometers, putting virtually all strategic facilities in Azerbaijan within their reach.
The most potent of those systems are apparently Russian-made 9K72 surface-to-surface ballistic missiles known in the West as Scud-B. They as well as more short-range but precise Tochka-U ballistic missiles were first put on display during a military parade in Yerevan a year ago.
Acquisition of long-range precision-guided weapons is a key element of a five-year government plan to modernize the army. The still unpublicized program was approved by Armenia’s National Security Council in late 2010.
Russia is obviously the most likely source of such weapons. A new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed earlier in 2010 commits Moscow to helping Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.”
The Armenian Defense Ministry has said that the latest “unprecedented” war games were planned in advance and are not directly related to truce violations on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan and “the line of contact” around Nagorno-Karabakh. But they do appear to highlight the growing risk of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war.
President Serzh Sarkisian claimed earlier this month that the Azerbaijani side is “getting prepared for resuming military hostilities and settling the conflict by military means.” In an interview with Reuters, he pointed to “a dangerous accumulation of armaments in Azerbaijan.”
Over the past decade, Baku has spent billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues on a military buildup which it hopes will eventually enable it to regain control over Karabakh and Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the disputed enclave.