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Uzbekistan - Army

During the post-Soviet era, Uzbekistan has maintained the largest military force in Central Asia. However, the training and experience of this force are low, and the government has spent relatively little on replacing Soviet-era equipment. The military plans to eliminate conscription in the process of creating a smaller, more mobile professional force, but no deadline has been announced for that reform.

The Uzbek army totals approximately 40,000 troops spread across four military districts. There are two operational commands in addition to a command located in Tashkent (the capital). The ground defense forces, largest of the four branches, numbered 20,400 troops in 1996, of which about 30 percent were professional soldiers serving by contract and the remainder were conscripts. The forces are divided into an army corps of three motorized rifle brigades, one tank regiment, one engineer brigade, one artillery brigade, two artillery regiments, one airborne brigade, and aviation, logistics, and communications support units. The ground forces' primary mission is to conduct rapid-reaction operations in cooperation with other branches. Combined headquarters are at Tashkent; the headquarters of the 360th Motor Rifle Division was at Termiz, and that of the Airmobile Division is at Farghona. (Although the force structure provided for no division-level units, they are designated as such for the purpose of assigning headquarters.) In 1996 Uzbekistan's active arsenal of conventional military equipment included 179 main battle tanks; 383 armored personnel carriers and infantry vehicles; 323 artillery pieces; forty-five surface-to-air missiles; and fifteen antitank guns.

In 2006 the active force was composed of 40,000 army personnel and 10,000 to 15,000 air force personnel. The term of active duty for conscripted personnel is 12 months. The government has discussed eliminating conscription and forming an all-professional army, but no deadlines have been announced. In 2006 the ground forces were organized in four military districts, comprising two operational commands and one command in Tashkent. The major units were the following brigades: one tank, 10 motorized rifle, one light mountain infantry, one airborne, one air assault, and four artillery. In 2006 the army had 340 main battle tanks, 13 armored reconnaissance vehicles, 405 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 309 armored personnel carriers, 200 pieces of towed artillery, 83 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 96 mortars, 108 multiple rocket launchers, and 36 antitank guns. Males are eligible for conscription at age 18.

U/I Motorized Rifle Brigade
U/I Motorized Rifle Brigade
U/I Motorized Rifle Brigade
U/I Motorized Rifle Brigade
U/I Motorized Rifle Brigade
U/I Motorized Rifle Brigade
U/I Motorized Rifle Brigade
U/I Motorized Rifle Brigade
U/I Motorized Rifle Brigade
U/I Motorized Rifle Brigade
U/I Mountain Infantry Brigade
U/I Airborne Brigade
U/I Air Assault Brigade
U/I Special Task force
U/I Armored brigade
Uzbekistan was among the first of the Central Asian states to establish its own armed forces, but within the context of the unified command structure of the Commonwealth ofIndependent States (CIS). OnAugust 31, 1991, Tashkent declared national sovereignty and the right to defend its own borders. A week later the new President announced creation of a Ministry for Defense Affairs and appointment of the first Defense Minister — Lieutenant General Rustam Ahmedov, an Uzbek. On January 14, 1992, Uzbekistan assumed jurisdiction over all former Soviet ground, air, and air defense units, formations and installations deployed on its soil, with the exception ofthose strategic forces retained under the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

But, within six months, Ukraine opted out of the CIS military structure and Russia decided to create its own national forces; the process of creating national forces outside the CIS structure had begun. Other Central Asian states resisted or drug their feet, but Uzbekistan immediately began to throw off the trappings of Soviet rule. The ex-Soviet Turkestan Military District was abolished on June 30, 1992, and its headquarters appropriated for the new Uzbek armed forces. A month later Tashkent created a full-flung Ministry of Defense and brought all military units under its authority. A National Border Guard force took over from the ex-Soviet Central Asian Border Troops District. A National Guard replaced former Soviet Interior (internal security) troops (Ministerstvo Vnutrennykh Del or MVD). Uzbekistan alone guards its external border (with Afghanistan) without the aid of Russian border troops. Finally, Uzbekistan oversaw the removal of all Russian forces from its territory; the last unit was "deported" to Tajikistan in early 1995.

Creating institutions was easier than producing the cadres to fill them. Few Uzbeks were actually serving in the Soviet Armed Forces and not many of them were actually stationed within Uzbekistan. Even before July 1992, President Karimov had begun the process ofrecalling ethnic Uzbeks not under contract serving abroad in non-CIS republics (e.g., the Baltic states, Azerbaijan) to return to Uzbekistan and declaring that the remainder of Uzbekistan recruits would serve in the Turkestan Military district, republican MVD troops, National Guard units or perform alternative service locally.68 Later this "homecoming" process became even more severe; Uzbeks who continued to serve abroad, even in CIS forces, forfeited their citizenship.

Tashkent then limited service to citizens of Uzbekistan. It was the sole Central Asian state which does not allow Russian Federation citizens to serve in its armed forces. Uzbekistan embarked on a policy of homogenization of the armed forces. In the short term it is producing a more balanced ethnic mix in the officer corps. With the nationalization of Soviet forces, the Uzbek Army was characterized by a overwhelmingly-Slavic officer corps and predominantly Uzbek enlisted forces. That soon strongly shifted, as a result of Slavic migration, the Uzbek refusal to grant dual citizenship, and a conscious government program to put Uzbek officers in charge.

At independence, Russian-speaking personnel comprised 70 percent of the officers corps of the Soviet forces in Uzbekistan. The headquarters of the Turkestan Military District provided a (mostly-Slavic) pool of officers for senior positions; of the 15 generals serving in Uzbekistan in 1992, only 5 were Uzbek. Tashkent acquired senior Uzbek officers by rejuvenating the careers of a group of Uzbek officers whose careers seemingly had dead-ended in the 1980s. For example, Rustam Akhmedov, a lieutenant colonel with 24 years service but shunted aside to Civil Defense, was promoted to Uzbek major general and appointed Defense Minister. Russians appointed as deputies (including the Army Chief of Staff) monopolized officer positions in the short term, but within a year, appointments became more balanced. Ethnic Slavs who remained accepted Uzbek citizenship.

It would take time to create an indigenous officer corps at all ranks, but Tashkent was fortunate that three major Soviet educational institutions (the Tashkent Higher All-Arms Command School, the Tashkent Higher Tank Command School, and the Samarkand Higher Military Automobile Command), four military lyceum prep-schools, and the Tashkent Special Military Gymnasium (Internat) were located in Uzbekistan.

In 1994, Uzbekistan established in Tashkent the new Armed Forces Academy, a joint institution to train officers for brigade- and corps-level command and staff assignments. It is the first such institution in Central Asia, and reflects Tashkent's decision to forego sending its officers to Russia for advanced military training.

Within the Uzbek military (and society as a whole), the Uzbek "national" language slowly gained ground. For example, Uzbek was a requirement for non-Uzbek speakers at the Tashkent Combined Arms School. However, Russian remained the military language of instruction and command and control. Part of the difficulty is that military manuals are in Russian, and it was too difficult and expensive initially to translate them. Also, many Central Asian Turkic languages simply lack the vocabulary for military operations.

As Uzbekistan has distanced itself from Russia and junior officers move up in rank, it was expected that preference for Uzbek officers will become increasingly common. Such officers should support President Karymov. They are not bound to him by kinship ties per se, but by personal bounds of loyalty because they owe their position in the new regime to him.

CENTRASBAT was the centerpiece of early US security cooperation in the region. Considerable resources where allocated to the effort, unfortunately with little long-lasting or tangible results. The cost of pre-exercise training activities, planning conferences and the conduct of the inaugural CENTRASBAT ‘97 exercise was over $5 million. During a trip to the region in July 1998, RADM John Sigler, Director of Strategic Plans and Policy (J5), US- CENTCOM, visited with the Uzbek contingent to the CENTRASBAT, an airborne company of over 100 soldiers. The unit commander was proud to inform Sigler that a significant portion of his unit had participated in the exercise. When asked for a show of hands of those who had participated, only two soldiers raised their hands. In the year since the exercise, the majority of the soldiers had left the service having completed their two-year conscription. With the exception of the two “veterans”, the bulk of the unit consisted of newly inducted soldiers. A similar pattern was found to be true in the CENTRABAT companies in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Significant resources had been expended and very little real capability had been developed. When these findings were made know to OSD, and USCENTCOM officials were informed of that the real training value of the exercisewas to the Central Asian officers involved in the exercise, as they tended to serve in the armed forces for longer periods of time. USCENTCOM suggested that there were more cost-effective ways to train officers.

Although the Uzbeks have been independent from Russia for two decades, there are many similarities to Soviet operating procedures. One example was their difficulty understanding the concept of mission, enemy, troops available, terrain, time and civilians. In the Uzbek Army, the senior commander makes all decisions. Freedom of maneuver seems to be extremely limited due to strict directives issued by senior commanders.

In 2003, a spokesman for the Uzbek Defense Ministry, Komil Jabborov, announced that the length of service for conscripts would be decreased from 18 months to 12. Furthermore, soldiers who have higher education will serve only nine months. Uzbek officials believe shorter terms of service will help stem corruption among recruitment officials. Over the past decade, young Uzbeks have routinely paid bribes to avoid serving in the national army. Many young men resist military service because of difficult conditions. The problem of "dedovshchina," the often brutal hazing of new recruits by older soldiers, is widespread.

Uzbekistan is considering the creation of a professional army in the long term. Much emphasis has been placed on the necessity for mobile, skilled forces that would be capable of combating terrorism and fighting other possible threats to internal and regional stability. Uzbekistan is reportedly already planning to gradually decrease the number of conscripted servicemen. Eventually, the bulk of the army's personnel will serve on a contract basis. In addition, growing ties with the United States and Europe, as a result of the Global War on Terrorism, have increased opportunites for language training (English, French) which facilitates the training of Uzbek officers in foreign military schools.

In January 2015 the United States gave Uzbekistan hundreds of military vehicles. It is one of the largest equipment transfers by the United States to a Central Asian nation and a move likely to renew concerns over Uzbekistan's human rights record. Uzbekistan had been Washington's partner in the war in Afghanistan, providing logistical support to the U.S.-led coalition since 2001. The transfer includes 308 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) and 20 Armored Recovery Vehicles to Uzbekistan, as part of the U.S. government's Excess Defense Articles Program. New MRAPs cost about $1 million apiece, while armored recovery vehicles are priced at about $2 million each.

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Page last modified: 24-01-2015 19:11:26 ZULU