Influenced by the requirements of supporting the forces of Nagorno-Karabakh against Azerbaijan and the long-term objective of 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; Vazgan Sarkisian, named the first minister of defense; and Vazgan 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 was 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 called 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.
As of 2007 the Armenian Armed Forces had a total of around 53,500 personnel, mostly in the Army. The Air Defense Forces have 3,900 personnel and the Air Force has up to 700. The Armenian Army had eight operational-tactical rocket launchers, 198 T-72 tanks, 320 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, 360 field artillery pieces, mortars, and multiple rocket launcher systems, around 160 100mm guns for firing on ground targets (previously used to avert avalanches), and 55 air defense system launcers (S-75, S-125, Krug, Osa). Russia has exported 2,000 tanks to 19 countries during the 20 years 1992 through 2012, including 64 T-72 to Armenia and 62 T-72B to Azerbaijan.
Most of Armenia's military forces and resources are concentrated on the border with Azerbaijan. There are several battalions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone itself, on occupied Azeri territory. Units from the Fifth Army Corps are stationed close to the Armenian-Turkish border. The main Air Defense Forces group is stationed along the line of contact with the Azeri Armed Forces. Armenia has no attack weapons on its borders with Georgia or Iran.
Army of Nagorno-Karabakh
The Army of Nagorno-Karabakh is well-trained and well-equipped. As of 2007 it was reported to have between 18,500 and 20,000 soldiers and officers; in the event of mobilization it could call up a further 20-30,000 reserves. Nagorno-Karabakh has 65 military personnel per thousand residents - a higher proportion than any other Caucasus country. In this unrecognized republic, the Armed Forces are regarded as an institution providing stable employment, and many families depend on military salaries. However, independent experts estimate that the Nagorno-Karabakh Army has only 8,500 Nagorno-Karabakh citizens - along with 10,000 Armenian citizens. In response, it is claimed that these 10,000 Armenians are representatives of the 500,000 Armenians who originated from Nagorno-Karabakh and are now living in Armenia.
It's no secret, of course, that there is a high level of integration between the Armed Forces of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Yerevan admits supplying arms and various military items to Stepanakert. Nagorno-Karabakh speaks openly of Armenian officers helping to train its military personnel. However, Yerevan claims that no units from the Armenian Armed Forces are present in Nagorno-Karabakh or the occupied Azeri territories around it.
Armenian military analysts maintain that although the Armed Forces of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are smaller than the Azeri Armed Forces, they are more combat-capable. This is particularly applicable to the Nagorno-Karabakh Army - it is relatively mobile and compact, and its officers have combat experience. By mobilizing 100% of Karabakh war veterans, it can operate as small autonomous units in mountain terrain. The weakness of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armed Forces is their lack of any army aviation - a constraint factor in active military operations.
But the four-day war in early April 2016 along the 230-kilometer Line of Contact separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces dug in east of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh changed perceptions. Some 70 to 80 Armenian servicemen died during the fighting, in which Azerbaijan succeeded in retaking a very small part of the territory over which it had lost control in the early 1990s. Those Armenian losses were in part the consequence of conscripts being issued insufficient equipment and hampered by shortages of ammunition and weapons. Those failures reinforced the perception that official corruption, which the authorities have for years downplayed and sworn to curtail, has become entrenched and endemic to the point that it now posed a direct threat to national security.
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