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 (Azatutyun.am) 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.”