From Soviet Remnants to Present Arsenal, A Closer Look at Armenia’s Armed Forces

After losing the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Armenia's geopolitical position and the situation of the residual NKR forces became highly complicated. 

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Like all post-Soviet armies, the Armed Forces of Armenia, except for those of the Baltic states and Tajikistan, arose from the remnants of the Soviet army. They emerged during a fierce conflict for Nagorno-Karabakh against Azerbaijan’s ostensibly much stronger Armed Forces. While Ukraine, Belarus, and certain Central Asian nations seized possession of all the weapons and assets of the Soviet army located on their territories, the South Caucasus nations were forced to share with Russia.


Only the 15th motorised rifle division (MRD) of the Soviet Army’s three motorised rifle divisions (MRDs) in Armenia entered the new country. However, it was in a diminished state and predominantly equipped with obsolete weapons, including T-54 tanks, BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, BTR-60/70 armoured personnel carriers, and D-30 howitzers. The comparatively modern equipment included T-72 tanks and BM-21 “Grad” multiple rocket launchers.

The advanced 127th MRD remained under Russian control and subsequently served as the foundation for the 102nd Russian military base in Armenia. The 164th MRD was disbanded; its 344th motorised rifle regiment was transferred to the 127th MRD, while the division’s remaining elements were either transferred to Armenia or sent to the Chita Oblast in Russia, where they were converted into one of the equipment storage bases.

In terms of military capability, Armenia was significantly behind Azerbaijan in 1993, with only 77 main battle tanks (MBTs), 150 infantry combat vehicles (IFVs), 39 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), 160 artillery systems, three aircraft, and thirteen helicopters. Notably, the self-formed Armed Forces of Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR) received equipment from the 366th motorised rifle regiment (nine T-72 tanks, five BRM-1 armoured reconnaissance vehicles, 49 BMP-1 IFVs, 28 BMP-2 IFVs, and five BTR-70 APCs).

Armenia acknowledged the loss of 52 T-72 tanks, 54 BMPs, 40 BTRs, six artillery pieces and mortars, one Su-25 ground-attack aircraft, and two Mi-24 combat helicopters during the 1994 ceasefire that ended the conflict. The Nagorno-Karabakh army’s losses were undisclosed.

On the other hand, a significant fraction of the equipment lost by Azerbaijan was captured in fully operational or partially damaged condition, and it became part of the Armed Forces of Armenia and the NKR. Since the Armenian-Karabakh forces had won a decisive victory, there was a substantial quantity of this equipment. They controlled nearly the entire territory of the NKR and the adjacent districts of Azerbaijan proper. In addition, it cannot be ruled out that some of the material reported as lost by Armenia was transferred to the Nagorno-Karabakh army.

Along the armistice line, the status quo has been maintained since 1994. Armenia and NKR, which do not have access to the sea and do not adjoin Russia, remained under a transportation blockade imposed by Azerbaijan and Turkey, with minimal transit through Georgia.

Consequently, almost all cargo to Armenia from its primary ally, Russia, continues to travel via Iran. Iran’s support for Orthodox Armenia against Shiite Azerbaijan may appear paradoxical. This paradox can be explained by the fact that Turkey, Iran’s geopolitical rival in the region, is Azerbaijan’s primary ally.

In the meantime, the Armed Forces of NKR became a peculiar phenomenon, as they surpassed the “official” Armenian army in several parameters while remaining largely unknown. At the very least, they were not reported, including under the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Even though the Armenian and Karabakh armies appeared to be a unified military force, their formation and combat training was carried out by joint plans.

The data presented by Azerbaijani sources regarding the combat potential of the Karabakh army was grossly exaggerated. In actuality, their capabilities were less impressive. They probably included approximately 140 T-72 tanks and up to 34 T-55 tanks, five BRM-1K armoured reconnaissance vehicles, 80 BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, 153 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, nine BTR-70 armoured personnel carriers, approximately 12 self-propelled artillery systems (SAUs) 2S1 and 2S3, up to 100 M-30 and D-30 (122 mm) guns, 16 D-1 guns, approximately 50 D-20 and 2A36 (152 mm) guns, 24 BM-21 multiple rocket launcher systems, at least six 9P149 “Shturm-S” and 9P148 (BRDM-2 with “Konkurs”) self-propelled antitank missile complexes (ATGMs), at least six “Osa” surface-to-air missile complexes (SAMs), several “Strela-10” SAMs, at least six “Shilka” self-propelled anti-aircraft gun systems (SPAAGs), several batteries of “large” SAMs, and up to ten helicopters.

Regarding Armenia’s military imports, the situation was far from obvious. As the equipment “flowed” into NKR, a portion of it was likely concealed. The first Russian arms shipments to Armenia took place in the mid-1990s. They were not made public, but their veracity is beyond question. Eight launchers of operational-tactical missile complexes (OTRK) R-17 (with 24 missiles), 84 T-72 tanks, 50 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, 36 122 mm D-30 howitzers, 18 152 mm guns (D-20 and D-1), BM-21 multiple rocket launcher systems, four 9P148, nine batteries (27 launchers) of the “Krug” SAM system, and 40 Igla MANPADS are believed to have been delivered. China sold four 273 mm WM-80 multiple rocket launcher systems to Armenia in the late 1990s.

Persistence and Defeat

In the 2000s, there were very few documented arms shipments to Armenia. Russia sold Armenia 26 D-30 howitzers (10 from Belarus and 16 from Montenegro), two Il-76 transport aircraft, and two divisions of S-300PS surface-to-air missile systems. In addition, they bought ten Su-25 assault aircraft from Slovakia and six L-39C training aircraft from Ukraine. It is possible but not confirmed that Armenia, specifically the Republic of Artsakh, received from the Armed Forces of Georgia a portion of the trophy equipment seized by Russian forces during the “five-day conflict.”

Armenia may have acquired eleven BM-27 Uragan multiple rocket launchers, twenty-one Sturm-S self-propelled antitank missile systems from Moldova, and two Mi-24B helicopters from Russia in 2011. These purchases were not, however, confirmed. It is possible that the equipment was sent to the Artsakh army, but during 2020, no Uragan systems were spotted, suggesting that the Moldovan multiple rocket launchers never reached Armenia. Russia, in 2013, supplied Armenia with 35 T-72 tanks and 110 BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers.

Simultaneously, Russia began delivering large quantities of modern combat equipment to Azerbaijan, which elicited exceedingly negative responses from Yerevan and Stepanakert. As compensation, Moscow provided loans to Yerevan for the acquisition of weapons, resulting in the acquisition of four Iskander missile launchers and approximately 25 missiles for them – Armenia became the first foreign buyer of Iskander systems, six Tornado multiple rocket launchers, up to 100 Kornet anti-tank missile systems, up to 100 man-portable air defence missile systems (MANPADS) Igla, and possibly a similar quantity of Verba MANPADS, in which case Armenia also became its first buyer, at least two Tor-M2KM wheeled air defence missile systems, and finally, four Su-30SM fighter-bombers.

In addition, the Armenian military received the sole T-90S tank won by its tank biathlon team. Additionally, Armenia purchased 50 Osa air defence missile systems from Jordan, of which 15 were presumably transferred to the Republic of Artsakh.

In November 2014, the Azerbaijanis shot down an Artsakh Air Force Mi-24 helicopter. During the brief conflict from April 2 to April 5, 2016 (“Karabakh for Three,” “VPK,” 2020, No. 4″), Artsakh acknowledged losing 14 T-72 tanks; however, only six Karabakh T-72 tanks may have been irretrievably lost. Moreover, multiple reconnaissance drones were shot down by both parties. Artsakh’s Osa air defence missile system was destroyed in May 2017 – possibly with the assistance of an Israeli-made Azerbaijani kamikaze drone, just like the preponderance of Karabakh T-72 tanks a year earlier.

The second war for Nagorno-Karabakh occurred in the autumn of 2020, during which Azerbaijan exacted a decisive vengeance for the first war.

Two R-17 ballistic missile launchers, 54 T-72 tanks, and 27 BMPs (one BRM-1K, eight BMP-1, and 18 BMP-2) were among the confirmed losses on the Armenian side of the conflict, along with one BTR-70 and 15 MT-LB armoured transporters, 14 self-propelled artillery units (10 2S1, four 2S3), 38 towed guns (20 D-30, two 2A36, 16 D-20), two self-propelled anti-t

Most of these casualties are attributed to the Armed Forces of the Republic of Artsakh. The Armenian Armed Forces presumably lost both R-17 launchers, BTR-70 and MT-LB vehicles, “Smerch” systems, some BM-21s, and all air defence assets, with the possible exception of “Osa” and “Shilka” systems.

Not all Armenian casualties are likely accounted for here. Additionally, the trophies from both parties have not been considered, despite their existence. Nonetheless, the Azerbaijanis captured significantly more trophies than the Armenians.

The Present Situation

The Armenian Armed Forces are believed to possess six R-17 ballistic missile launchers, at least two “Tochka” missile launchers, and four Iskander missile launchers.

The tank fleet has one T-90, 138 T-72s, and eight T-55s.

There are 120 armoured reconnaissance vehicles BRDM-2, 12 command reconnaissance vehicles BRM-1K, ten airborne infantry fighting vehicles BMD-1, 159 infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1, and eight command infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1K. In addition, there are five BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles and over 200 APCs, including six BTR-152s, nineteen BTR-60, fifty-four BTR-70, one hundred and fourteen BTR-80, and up to forty MT-LBs.

38 self-propelled artillery batteries (10 2S1 Gvozdika 122mm, 28 2S3 Akatsiya 152mm) and 147 towed guns (85 D-30 122mm, 26 2A36, 34 D-20, two D-1 152mm) comprise the artillery. Approximately 80 mortars (19 PM38 and up to 62 M-43 120mm) and up to 53 multiple rocket launchers (up to 47 BM-21 Grad 122mm, four WM-80 273mm, and two “Smerch” 300mm) are also present.

The Armenian arsenal consists of nine to twenty “Malutka” ATGM launchers, twelve “Fagot” systems, ten “Konkurs” systems, twenty-seven “Sturm-S” self-propelled antitank missile systems, and up to one hundred “Kornet” ATGM systems. There are 71 anti-tank weapons, 35 D-44 85mm and 36 MT-12 100mm.

40 to 60 Osa SAM systems, up to 48 Strela-10 SAM systems, 30 Strela-1 SAM systems, up to 200 Strela-2 MANPADS, 140 Igla-S MANPADS, 48 Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft systems, and up to two Tor-M2KM motorised SAM systems are used by the air defence forces.

The number of NKR (Republic of Artsakh) ground forces is estimated. Most likely, they include up to 80 T-72 tanks, up to 34 T-55 tanks, four BRM-1K command reconnaissance vehicles, 72 BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, 135 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, eight BTR-70 armoured personnel carriers, two 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled artillery systems, and eight 2S3 Akatsiya self-propelled artillery systems. Up to 90 M-30 and D-30 howitzers, 16 D-1 howitzers, approximately 40 D-20 howitzers, and up to 100 2A36 cannons comprise the artillery. In addition, they possess at least five Sturm-S self-propelled antitank missile systems and five 9P148 ATGM carriers. There are up to five Osa SAM systems, several Strela-10 SAM systems, and at least three Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft systems among the air defence forces. After the war of 2020, a substantial portion of the NKR army was presumably withdrawn to Armenia.

Due to insufficient loss evaluation, most of these figures are probably exaggerated.

The Armenian Air Force and Air Defence possess fourteen Su-25 attack aircraft, one Su-25UB combat trainer, four Su-30SM fighter-bombers, and potentially one MiG-25PD interceptor.

There are up to 10 transport aircraft (three Il-76, up to six An-2, and possibly one An-24), up to 26 training aircraft (six L-39, 10-14 Yak-52, one Yak-55, up to five Yak-18T), 12 combat helicopters (eight Mi-24V/P, two Mi-24RH, two Mi-24K), two Mi-9 airborne command post helicopters, and up to 30 multi-purpose helicopters (11-20 Mi-8/17, eight-nine Mi-2).

Three S-300PT SAM divisions, two S-300PS SAM divisions, three to five S-125 SAM divisions, and one S-75 SAM division in storage comprise the ground-based air defence. Additionally, they possess three to six “Krug” SAM divisions.

The NKR Air Force and Air Defence are presumed to possess up to one S-300PS SAM division, five to six “Krug” SAM batteries, at least one S-125 SAM division, three to five Mi-24 combat helicopters, and five Mi-8 helicopters. A significant portion of the S-75, S-125, and “Krug” SAM divisions of the Armenian Air Defence was presumably transferred to the NKR Air Defence.

After losing the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Armenia’s geopolitical position and the situation of the residual NKR forces became highly complicated. 


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