Armenia is developing new defense capabilities, will it be enough?

By Ani Paitjan

What are the factors that led to Armenia’s devastating loss in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War? How did the structure of Azerbaijan’s military enable its victory? Following the war, Armenia has sought to rearm with the help of India and France. Are these arms purchases relevant in the case of another war? CivilNet sat down with Colonel Jean-Luc Theus, France’s former defense attaché in the South Caucasus, to better understand Armenia’s defensive framework in the coming years.

What crucial elements led to Armenia’s loss during the Second Karabakh War in 2020?

– I would first like to point out that I was an officer with the French mountain troops. I have a fairly specific view of mountain warfare. I think that there was a problem of lucidity in Armenia regarding what was then Baku’s desire to reconquer territories and to provide itself with very coherent military means. I think that there was, at the level of Yerevan, a lack of desire to believe in what was nevertheless extremely visible within the Azerbaijani armed forces.

The Armenian strategy was very defensive, and it relied on a network of fortifications and trenches, which still presented a major flaw, that of being completely immobile. And therefore, they constituted easy targets for Azerbaijani artillery, which was very sophisticated and very well-equipped. I also think that the Armenian anti-aircraft protection systems, which were essentially Soviet-Russian in nature, were not technically up to standard. And I think that the teams who were behind this equipment, these radars, and particularly anti-aircraft missile systems for use against drones, were not technically up to standard. So I think that the anti-aircraft system itself was outdated compared to what Baku put in front of it, in particular all the drone systems, tele-operated munitions, suicide munitions, Turkish-made drones, etc.

What about the coordination and management of problems on the grounds?

We realize that the Armenian command was undoubtedly a little too vertical. In the mountains, the initiative must be left to the lowest combat levels because ultimately it is the terrain that commands. They are often isolated in their own valleys, in their own compartments of land. So we must leave the initiative to them. Whether the entire Armenian and Karabakh chain of command was capable of implementing this initiative, I am not sure.

I also think that the principles of mountain warfare when on defense mean a war should be made up of a lot of mobility. That was not sufficiently known by the Armenian high command, and in the end, it is the units on the ground who pay when the command does not make the right decisions quickly enough, and when the command is too rigid. If there is anything to remember it is “leave the initiative to those on the ground and even encourage it.”

Since the 2020 war, Armenia has increased its military spending. Armenia allocated $785 million for defense. In 2021, this spending amounted to approximately $663 million. In 2024, Armenia plans to devote $1.4 billion to it.

For its part, Azerbaijan has also considerably increased its military budget. In 2020, Azerbaijan’s defense spending amounted to $2.2 billion, and in 2021, it reached $2.7 billion. In 2024, Azerbaijan further increased its military budget, bringing it to $3.7 billion.

As you noted, there is a big difference between the two countries’ military spending. Is the amount that is deployed for military armament a decisive factor in the outcome of a future war. What other factors come into play?

– I think it is a key factor, but it is not a decisive one. All specialists in war and war economics will say this. Especially in the case of Armenia, which is in a defensive position in advantageous terrain. Because it’s a complex terrain. So that makes it quite easy to get things back on track. Beyond the weaponry, there is the way we use it, the way we learn to use it. So there is also a matter of doctrine, and that is not a question of money. It is above all a question of mobilizing energies and brains and developing a doctrine that is realistic, in conformity with the military culture of the country, in conformity with the terrain on which we must fight and adapted to the threat to which the forces will be opposed. And with a lucid analysis that is neither too arrogant nor too naive. The armament and the sums devoted to it are important, but it would be known if it were enough to pile up expensive armaments to win a war.

Cooperation agreements have been signed with France and Greece for the preparation of Armenian forces. Are these training courses effective? The geography of France and Greece are different from Armenia, do these formations match the terrain?

– It is indeed the right solution to turn to a certain number of partner countries to develop doctrine, command systems, and planning systems. France and Greece are two NATO countries that have good operational experience, very different but complementary. It’s not just about sending specialists to Armenia and telling them how to do it. I think it is also interesting for officers, particularly young Armenian officers, to get a little exposure to operational techniques in Europe. But in my opinion, there is a trap to avoid. We must not try to copy, for example, what we do within NATO in an exact way, but to adapt it to the realities on the ground, the culture and the realities of Armenian sociology.

– Since the 2020 War, Armenia has diversified the purchase of its military weapons. It obtains its supplies from France, India and a little from Russia. What can we expect from this strategy?

– At the time of the 2020 war, you had an almost exclusive supplier: Russia. Having just one supplier is dangerous because at any moment it can slip through your fingers. It is important to diversify because buying weapons from a country is also a political gesture. So behind it there is necessarily political support too. Buying weapons from different countries involves buying weapons that are a little more expensive from certain countries, French radars for example, and weapons that are a little less expensive, in greater numbers but which are of a technological level that are quite sufficient for what the Armenian army needs to achieve. I am thinking of India in particular. These weapons have the quality, in particular, of being well adapted to mountainous terrain, since India is one of the countries which has experience in mountain warfare.

When we sell arms, there are agreements behind it, bilateral defense agreements which bind both parties. And France has this type of agreement with Yerevan, and it will respect it. Should Yerevan develop, as India did for example, its own defense technological industrial base? This is already somewhat the case, there are already companies working on it. There is also human resources. Engineers are working and very competent people have looked into this. If you take the example of Ukraine, it is certain that there was a legacy from the Soviet period, but they were able to capitalize on this to develop their industry, very original, very agile. The best illustration being all the drone systems and remotely operated munitions, which are not very expensive and which are within the range of use of most Ukrainian soldiers. So, here I think is a model that can inspire Yerevan. You need a degree of autonomy but you cannot produce everything just as France does not produce everything. She is dependent on certain areas.

France and Armenia signed an agreement on October 23. France has provided and will provide defense equipment, specifically three Ground Master 200 (GM 200) radars and night vision devices to Armenia. The GM 200 is a radar that detects, identifies and tracks a target in all types of environments and transmits information to ground air defense to engage the target. Its use in Armenia would serve to fight against small drones which, as the 2020 war showed, constitute one of the most vulnerable spheres of the Armenian army. The Armenian Armed Forces will receive a total of approximately 50 Bastion armored vehicles. Sebastien Lecornu, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, also announced the purchase of Mistral-type missiles. The missile is used in a wide variety of weapon systems aimed at low and very low altitude anti-aircraft defense.

Armenia also purchased defensive and offensive weapons from India. The Swathi radar is designed to detect and track artillery shells and missiles launched by the enemy, as well as determine the location of their launch, Pinaka rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons and other munitions, MArG 155 self-propelled howitzers, Six ATAGS 155 mm howitzers for the moment for a total of 90, Zen anti-drone system developed in India, Akash anti-aircraft missile systems. Does this supply seem relevant to you in the face of Azerbaijan and its artillery?

– Yes, it is very consistent. Radar that detects aircraft does not necessarily detect smaller objects that fly slowly or are in materials that are less receptive to radar. France should also sell light intensifiers. This equipment is very important if we want to be effective in mountain combat at night.

The Indian armaments are mostly composed of artillery equipment. And it’s also a very coherent choice because we can clearly see that there are different scopes. You have multiple rocket launcher systems that go up to 120 km, which is a bit equivalent to the Soviet Smerch system that Baku used.

You also have an Indian system, which is the French equivalent of the Caesar used by Ukraine, the MArG 155 self-propelled howitzer, which is smaller and which carries a little less far, but which is extremely mobile on narrow roads and in mountains . And then, you have these towed pieces which shoot quite far and in particular a very interesting range of shells since we are talking about smart shells, very sophisticated shells. So, there is real consistency in terms of scope and capabilities.

And then, beyond the guns, we have to make sure that there is a system that allows us to fire quickly and precisely, with drones in particular, to find the targets. Then we have to command systems that are sufficiently agile and fast to be able to promote these parts which are of a very good level and which are, above all, well adapted to the terrain on which it would be likely to be used.

– The air defense system was a significant weak point for Armenia in 2020. Should the government focus on purchasing squadrons of combat aircraft, or is it better to concentrate almost entirely on air defense systems?

– We return to the financial subject. Having a fleet of planes below a certain number is useless. So we are generally talking about a minimum squadron, between 12 and 15 planes. But that’s not enough. Spare parts are needed, especially the reactors.

You need all the weapons, air-to-air missiles to shoot down other planes, or air-to-ground munitions. All this has an impact. There is a whole maintenance system. We must have sufficiently protected air bases to deploy these planes and then we must have pilots who are sufficiently trained. It is a fairly complex system that has been built over several years. And I think that the choice made for the moment, by Yerevan, to concentrate on ground-to-air defense, therefore from the ground, is a good compromise given the financial resources that Armenia can devote to its defense.

Armenia’s strategy must be to do as much harm as possible to the forces that attack it. To cause harm is to possibly cause losses to the opposing aviation with anti-aircraft missiles. The idea is to make the price of the attack on Armenia a little disproportionate to the expected gain. And there, we enter into a matter of deterrence that we know well in France.

Interview in French:

  • Brava pour cet interview. Pour la premiere fois on eclairsit la situation presente.

    Marci au Colonel Jean-Luc Theus !!!

leave a reply