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Azerbaijan Military Naval Forces

The small Azerbaijani Navy's assets and equipment are based on the quarter portion of the former Soviet Caspian Flotilla Baku received under the terms of a CIS agreement (March 1992). Formed in mid-1992, the Azerbaijani navy has about 3,000 personnel in sixteen units from the former Soviet Caspian Flotilla and Border Guards. By 1994 the navy had five minesweepers, four landing ships, and three patrol boats. In 1994 estimated total troop strength had reached 56,000, of which 49,000 were in the army, 3,000 in the navy, 2,000 in the air force, and 2,000 in the air defense forces.

The Azerbaijani Navy is second in size only to Russia's Caspian Sea Flotilla but far distant in operational capabilities, and is comprised of approximately 20 ships and 1,750 personnel. There is one frigate, but the bulk of the surface combatants are smaller patrol boats that operate effectively in the coastal waters on anti-smuggling, anti-poaching, oil field security and similar types of operations. Turkey and the U.S. have contributed several newer patrol craft.

The Navy of Azerbaijan has a brigade of surface vessels (guard division, landing vessels division, mine-sweeper division, search and rescue division, training vessel division), a national waters security brigade, a marines battalion, an intelligence and special assignment center, and coastguard units. By 2007 the Navy had a total of 14 warships and patrol boats and 22 auxiliary vessels, but not all of them are serviceable, due to various technical problems and a shortage of experienced specialists.

Azerbaijan is strategic in view of its maritime border with Iran in the Caspian sea. In this regard, the U.S. Navy is involved in supporting the Azeri Navy, in the area of training. There is also an agreement to provide US support to refurbish Azeri warships in the Caspian sea. The US sponsored Caspian Guard Initiative was launched in 2003 to "coordinate activities in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan with those of U.S. Central Command and other U.S government agencies to enhance Caspian security." The initiative was implemented under the cover of preventing narcotics trafficking and counter- terrorism, It ultimate objective, however, is to provide USCENTCOM with a strategic naval corridor in the Caspian sea basin. The US has also participated in joint Naval exercises with the Azeri Army's 641st Special Warfare Naval Unit, headquartered at the Azeri Naval Station outside Baku.

The United States donated up-to-date radar equipment and three motor boats to the Azerbaijani navy by the end of 2006. Azerbaijan planned to take steps for modernization of infrastructure of Military Naval Forces in 2007. Motor-launches and mine-sweepers are planned to be bought and introduced to the disposal of Azerbaijan Naval Forces this year with modernizing old boats. These works are supported by NATO in accordance with Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) and US. Azerbaijani and Russian Naval Forces are planning to launch joint friendship exercises in Caspian Sea in 2007.

The Caspian Sea Maritime Proliferation Prevention Projects in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan support the development of a comprehensive capability for maritime surveillance and WMD detection and interdiction on the Caspian Sea borders. The project in Azerbaijan built on previous assistance that established an interim command and control center; provided vessel maintenance assistance; enhanced detection capabilities by developing guides, handbooks, and procedures; and provided maintenance and logistics system enhancements and training. This year, assistance includes repair and upgrades of patrol and support craft; completion of the Astana Boat Basin in southern Azerbaijan; revision of the detection and interdiction concept of operations; and enhancement of a coastal surveillance system, including 24/7 radar operations. Formal notification from the Government of Azerbaijan that the Azerbaijan Navy will play a supporting role to the Coast Guard in prosecuting its WMD detection and interdiction mission, and identification of the site for permanent command and control center, permitted construction of the new center.

By 2009 Azerbaijan had extremely limited maritime domain awareness (MDA) in the Caspian Sea - that is, it can "see" or identify via its limited shore-based radar, AIS, camera, and intelligence systems no more than 30 percent of its claimed maritime sector. The on-shore radar systems, depending on a number of technical variables, can typically provide 10 to 25 miles of visibility off the coast, but coverage is not continuous along the shoreline. The most important of Azerbaijan,s oil fields are located 75-100 miles off shore, beyond the Azerbaijani's MDA capability.

A single radar at Jiloy island and industry-controlled radars at each of the oil platforms provide MDA coverage of Azerbaijan,s significant energy assets. This one radar covers the massive Shah Deniz gas field, but only half of the ACG oil fields, which feeds the 1 million bpd westward BTC pipeline. The newly [as of 2009] installed radar is often non-operational because of broken parts, poor communication links, or poor system maintenance.

Azerbaijan can temporarily improve its limited MDA picture by moving vessels into areas to fill gaps, but their ability to sustain this is limited by the small number of capable ships, trained crews, and weak command and control.

Azerbaijan's poor MDA risks unwitting confrontation with Iran, Russia, or other regional actors, as Azerbaijan must physically deploy vessels to potentially disputed waters to ascertain even basic information regarding developments in the maritime sector. Lack of MDA also leaves both the ACG fields and Shah Deniz vulnerable to attack by nations in the region, terrorists, or other non-state actors. Azerbaijan understands that both Russia and Iran regularly violate their claimed sector, but can do very little about it.

Azerbaijan remains deeply concerned with potential underwater sabotage of its energy facilities. The USSR developed and fostered significant underwater sabotage capabilities at a special operations center in Baku. Soviet capabilities were actively matched by Iranian efforts, in a type of low-intensity conflict which persisted for many years. There is evidence to suggest that both Russia and Iran maintain these capabilities. The best assessment is that Azerbaijan's deep concern about underwater sabotage of its energy facilities is not misplaced.

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