YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his National Security Council approved at the weekend a five-year plan to modernize Armenia’s armed forces which envisages the acquisition of long-range precision-guided weapons.
Sarkisian’s office referred to it as the State Program of Developing Weaponry and Military Hardware in 2011-2015. It said the Armenian military will receive “state-of-the-art weapons” and become “considerably” stronger as a result.
“With the adoption of this program, we are taking an important step to neutralize all possible military threats to Armenia’s security,” the secretary of the National Security Council, Artur Baghdasarian, told a news conference on Monday. Yerevan will not only get hold of modern armaments but also develop its domestic defense industry, he said.
The modernization plan is essentially based on two documents approved in August by another Armenian government commission dealing with defense and national security. One of the documents dealt with army weaponry, while the other detailed measures to develop the Armenian defense industry.
“The two programs envisage both the acquisition of state-of-the-art weapons and their partial manufacturing by the local defense industry,” Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said at the time. He said this will enhance the Armenian army’s “long-range strike capacity” and enable it to “thwart free enemy movements deep inside the entire theater of hostilities.”
Speaking to journalists on August 10, Ohanian did not deny that the modernization plan is connected with the persisting risk of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war in Nagorno-Karabakh. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service two weeks later, he said the long-range weapons sought by Yerevan would be aimed at “strategic facilities” of Armenia’s hostile neighbors.
The Armenian military is believed to be already equipped with short-range tactical missiles capable of striking military and civilian targets in Azerbaijan.
Ohanian spoke to RFE/RL just days after Armenia and Russia signed a new agreement prolonging and upgrading Russia’s military presence in the South Caucasus state. The defense pact also stipulates that Moscow will help Yerevan obtain “modern and compatible weaponry and (special) military hardware.” The precise type of these weapons is not yet known.
Baghdasarian effectively acknowledged a link between the pact signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s August visit to Yerevan and the modernization plan endorsed by Sarkisian. He noted that Medvedev and Sarkisian also oversaw the signing of another deal that calls for closer cooperation between the Armenian and Russian defense enterprises. Baghdasarian reaffirmed the two governments’ plans to set up joint defense ventures.
The planned modernization of the Armenian armed forces comes amid a continuing military build-up in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani leaders’ growing threats to end the Karabakh conflict by force. The Azerbaijani government’s defense spending is due to soar further, to over $3 billion, next year. The Armenian defense budget for 2011 is projected at only $405 million.
Armenia has so far been able to at least partially offset the widening spending gap with close military ties with Russia. Its membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) allows it to receive Russian weapons at cut-down prices or even free of charge.
According to Baghdasarian, these “privileged terms” were reinforced by one of the documents adopted the latest summit of the CSTO member states held in Moscow late last week. The official also announced that Armenia will host a CSTO military exercise in October 2011.