Armenian Air Force
The Armenian Air and Air Defence Forces are tasked with defending the country's borders from air incursion, providing defensive air cover and close air support to the ground forces, tactical transport within the battle-space and maintaining trained and ready formations. As of 2007 the Armenian Air Force was reported to have seven fighters (six Su-25s, one MiG-25), 12 combat helicopters (seven Mi-24s, three Mi-24Ks, two Mi-24Rs), and 26 auxiliary aircraft (two L-39s, 16 Mi-2s, eight Mi-8MTs). As of 2007 the Armenian Armed Forces had a total of around 53,500 personnel, mostly in the Army. The Air Force had 700 personnel. Azerbaijan had sought to acquire some MiG-29 combat aircraft to match the 18 sold to the Armenian Air Force.
In stark contrast to its ground forces, the Armenian Air Force squandered even a nominal offensive and defensive capability. The focus has been on providing both tactical and national air defences that are credible and sufficient to combat the likely threat. The country's national strategic air defences are significantly upgraded by the stationing of Russian air defence units (ground and air), the joint air defence command post and joint surveillance network.
The Armenian Air Force consists of a mix of old, generally poorly maintained aircraft and small numbers of newer operational aircraft. Poor maintenance and a shortage of spare parts have meant that many fixed-wing aircraft inherited from the Soviet Air Force are assessed as not combat ready. The low aircraft operational readiness rates continue to limit training, especially live fire activity and combined arms training, and in turn, the combat utility of the air force. Thus, Armenia's small air force can be characterised as more of a training base than as a combat effective asset. The operational assets cannot sustain combat operations in the face of either good ground-based air defences or a reasonably competent air force any extended period of time. The few ground attack aircraft could operate only under the ground force's air defence umbrella. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been pursuing a number of programs for some years to modernise and upgrade the air force's combat aircraft, but this is an extremely expensive proposition.
In September 2005 Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian confirmed reports that Armenia had purchased ten Russian-made military aircraft from Slovakia in 2004, significantly boosting its modest air force. "They are fully capable of performing combat tasks," he said of the Su-25 single-seat, close-support jets. "The new aircraft enhanced our military potential." Aghabekian declined to disclose the cost of the aircraft purchase, saying that he had no part in the hitherto unpublicized deal. He also insisted that the Su-25s were not outdated despite having been used by the Slovak military for over a decade. "All pieces of military hardware which Armenia acquires are combat-ready and are being constantly upgraded," Aghabekian told reporters. He also did not rule out more deliveries of used aircraft to the Armenian military in the near future.
Su-25, codenamed Frogfoot by NATO, is primarily designed to attack ground targets with air-to-ground missiles and laser-guided and cluster bombs. It is also equipped with a twin-barrel gun capable of firing 3,000 rounds per minute. The warplane is mainly used by the armed forces of Russia and other ex-Soviet states as well as former members of the Warsaw Pact, including Slovakia. Slovakia joined NATO along with three other former Communist countries of Eastern Europe in 2002 and has since been gradually switching to NATO standards and armaments.
The low-flying aircraft and its 500 kilogram cluster bombs in particular were commonly used by Azerbaijan during the 1991-1994 war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia's fleet of Su-25s was small and their involvement in the war was minimal. The Armenian military had only five such jets when the fighting was stopped in May 1994. The Slovak delivery is thus a major boost to its capability.
Two correspondents of the British magazine "Air Forces" were the first journalists that were allowed to see the Slovak Su-25s at the main Armenian air force base in Gyumri in the summer of 2004. "Unusually, the recently acquired Slovak Su-25Ks have retained the color scheme and the national insignia of the Slovak Air Force," they wrote in the August edition of the publication. "No precise details are known as to the future of the Armenian Air Force, but we are able to say that the Armenians are intending to build up a small, but well-organized, air force," they concluded.
The air defence component's ground-based surveillance and air defence units are tasked with supporting the air force in defending the country's air borders and protecting strategic assets, for example, air bases, government headquarters and critical infrastructure. These ground-based air defence formations are deployed accordingly. They are also integrated into the CIS air defence network and supported by the surveillance systems, the 18 Russian MiG-29 air defence fighters and S-300 air defence batteries that the Russian Air Force mans and operates in Armenia. Russia helped to modernize Armenia's anti-aircraft capabilities in 2006. Armenian specialists are now be able to operate the Russian S-300 missile systems that were deployed in Armenia in the late 1990s.
The superiority of Azerbaijani air forces in a renewed conflict with Armenians is offset by the superiority of Armenian and Nagorno Karabakhi air defenses. Armenia has installed a multi-level air-defense system comprised of long and medium range rocket launchers (S-125, S-75, `Kub') and short range air defense artillery and Human Portable SAM (`Osa', ZSU-23-4, `Igla' and `Strela') that can provide Armenians with an adequate layered air defense. Additionally, as the Armenian air defenses are being improved by the latest addition of air defense weapons and equipment, significance of the numeric superiority of Azerbaijani air forces will be diminished. Considering the terrain of the region, the air force units that Azerbaijan would most effectively utilize would be Mi-24 attack helicopters, but these might not provide Azerbaijan with much superiority over the Armenian ground forces.
The main weakness of the Karabakh army is the lack of air force, while the Armenian air force remains numerically insignificant. Despite such weaknesses, the possession of strong air defenses allows the Karabakh army to neutralize the Azerbaijani air force, just like they did during the 1992-1994 war.
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