Georgia Army / Land Forces
The Land Forces constitute the largest component of the GAF. The fundamental mission of the Georgian Land Forces is to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state. The Land Forces must be able to deal with potential threats, including those generated by the ongoing tensions in the separatist regions. The land defense of Georgia is provided by infantry brigades, artillery and other supporting capabilities organized at the battalion level.
Relatively little of the military industry of the Soviet Union was located in Georgia. One Tbilisi plant assembled military aircraft that were the basis of the small Georgian air force after its independance in 1991. Most weapons obtained by the various armed units operating in Georgia after 1990 apparently were purchased illegally from Soviet (and later Russian) officers and soldiers stationed in the Caucasus.
In May 1992, leaders of the Commonwealth of Independant States (CIS) set quotas for the transfer of Soviet military equipment to republic armed forces. According to this plan, Georgia was to receive 220 tanks, 220 armored vehicles, 300 artillery pieces, 100 military aircraft, and 50 attack helicopters. Kitovani complained in December 1992 that Georgia, unlike the other republics, had not yet received any of its allotment.
By the late 1990s, budget constraints and the advice of Western advisers led the Georgian leadership to slash the size of the army to create a small, mobile army that could meet NATO standards. The armed rebellions and coups which took place in the early 1990s are probably one reason for the condition of the Georgian of 2000, which was miserable even by post-Soviet standards. The Shevardnadze administration seemed to have decided to reduce the risks of future military unrest by dividing the armed forces in Georgia would be among several different state institutions. Georgia had a huge number of police and Interior Ministry troops relative to its population, and these were much better supplied than the Army, which was in a dreadful state. The Georgian administration told NATO officials that it wanted to create a leaner, meaner fighting machine, but in fact they hadn't even managed the basics. Conscription in 2000 was about 25 per cent of the target figure. Many soldiers were sent home on 'leave' so their families could feed them. No one in Georgia - including the Army command - had any clear idea just how many soldiers Georgia would really have available in a crisis.
To achieve optimim military readiness and effectiveness in conditions where the Defense Ministry budget is widely admitted to be inadequate, the number of military personnel was to be reduced from the present 38,414 in 2000 to 20,000 by mid-2001 and 12,000-13,000 by 2004. Those reductions were to be primarily in ancillary personnel such as medical and sporting facilities for the exclusive use of the armed forces and military choirs and brass bands. The reformed armed forces would not include a separate air force, as that would be too costly. Military aircraft and helicopters were to be under the jurisdiction of the ground forces. The nucleus of those forces would be a small rapid-reaction force.
In early 2002 the United States launched a two-year, $64 million program, referred to as "Train and Equip," to create three battalions and one motorized company meeting NATO standards. Following the successful conclusion of that program in 2004, a follow-on initiative was launched with comparable funding to train a further 4,000 Georgian servicemen.
The armed forces were downsized from approximately 38,000 men to some 20,000 in early 2004, mainly through reductions in ancillary, noncombat personnel. When he was appointed defense minister in early 2004, Gela Bezhuashvili said the armed forces would be further reduced, to around 15,000 men.
Georgia launched an ambitious program in the fall of 2004 to train 15,000-20,000 reservists. By late October 2004, three battalions of reservists had been established. These battalions underwent intensive basic training over a period of several weeks. Plans called for a total of 15 battalions to be trained by the end of 2005. Irakli Okruashvili, who took over as Defense Minister in December 2004, said while visiting Washington in June 2005 that it might be necessary to increase the number of personnel. This could be done by adding one more brigade to the existing four.
In its report for 2005, Georgia's International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) noted that previous reviews identified a total strength of 13,000-15,000 active-duty personnel as an optimum for the Georgian armed forces. A four-brigade structure, along with an increased reserve force, represented an increase of 25-30 percent on earlier planning figures in the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) agreed with NATO in 2004.
Observers suggested that the rationale for reversing the downsizing of recent years was to launch a new military offensive to bring the unrecognized breakaway Republic of South Ossetia back under the control of the Georgian government.
In addition to upping manpower, Georgia greatly increased its defense spending, from 79 million laris ($43 million) in 2004 to 317 million laris in 2005. The increase was consistent with the requirement that countries aspiring to NATO membership spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.
The weaponry purchased reportedly included armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, helicopters, and T-72 tanks. The latter three items called into question earlier statements that Georgia had no aggressive intentions and plans to strengthen its armed forces exclusively for defensive purposes, to repel any external invasion. These weapons were well suited for an offensive against the Ossetians. From mid-June to mid-July 2005, some 800 Georgian troops conducted large-scale tank exercises using some 170 battle tanks. One year earlier, Georgia had only 76 T-55 and T-72 tanks. Ukraine supplied many of the new T-72 tanks, some of which were improved T-72 SIM-1 models.
Georgia had also succeeded, with assistance of the United States, Turkey, and other allies, in transforming the paramilitary National Guard into a trained, disciplined, and well-equipped fighting force qualified for NATO membership.
The Georgian Ministry of Defense outlined various priorities for its armed forces for the 2005-2006 timeframe. It identified for the Army the following priority activities to be accomplished in 2005-2006:
- Modernization of the equipment, weapons and vehicles by retiring and replacing dated equipment.
- Provide fully manned and trained 1nd Brigade (on the basis of the 11th Brigade) within the "Sustainment and Stabilization Operations Program" (SSOP), capable of conducting battalion level mission tasks and maintain its combat readiness. The brigade base would be located in Vaziani and Telavi.
- Within the "Sustainment and Stabilization Operations Program"(SSOP) Georgia envisaged manning of the 2nd Brigade (on the 21st Brigade basis) capable of conducting battalion level mission tasks. The 2nd Brigade would be located in Senaki.
- To establish the 3rd Infantry Brigade capable of conducting battalion level mission tasks located in Kutaisi.
- Consolidation of the 4th Infantry Brigade from the Former Interior Forces. Their bases would be located in Tbilisi and Mukhrovani.
- Reorganization, rearmament, fully manning of the personnel and training of the Artillery group.
- Equipment and development of Special Forces Brigade. Special Forces should react on asymmetrical dangers, which Georgia faced and should be able to join anti-terrorist operations. It's base would be located in Tbilisi and Wninri
By 2006 Georgia hoped to have 3 brigades that were NATO interoperable. In August 2006 a Mountain Training School was established in Sachkhere As part of the push toward NATO interoperability was the formation of a seperate medical battalion in 2007. A training center was established in Saguramo in September 2007 for a seperate Communications Battalion, as well as a new base for Georgia's Special Operations Group in Vashlijvari. By December 2007 the Georgian Army had started recruitment for its V Infantry Brigade, to be based at Khoni and intended to be NATO interoperable or close to NATO interoperable.
The Georgian Army, along with the other services, made large use of foreign training capacity, either by sending Georgian forces abroad for training or bringing in foreign experts to train on Georgian soil. Between 2004 and 2008 members of the Georgian Army completed training programs in a wide variety of fields, from mountain training to administrative workshops, provided by Dutch, French, Polish, Ukrainian, and Israeli experts and military personnel.
In January 2008 the Georgian military opened a base in the town of Gori, construction of which had started in 2006. Gori was also the location of the Central Military Hospital. This base was later abandoned in the August 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia.
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