One landlocked state in the Caucasus is rapidly developing its armaments sector. Last week marked the beginning of the second ArmHiTec, a rare exhibition to showcase the latest military hardware available in Armenia, whose longstanding confrontation with its neighbor Azerbaijan has turned it into a virtual fortress.
This year’s ArmHiTec held in the YerevanExpo building from March 29 until 31 may not have been on the same scale as similar events from Europe and the Middle East, but it did reveal the priorities of Armenia’s national security crowd–drones, missiles, and optics. 21st Century Asian Arms Race (21AAR) is a media partner for ArmHiTec 2018.
No less than Armenia’s own strongman, President Serzh Sargsyan, was received at the YerevanExpo on the opening day of the arms show. The President, accompanied by his ministers and security detail, was treated to a mini concert followed by a demonstration–complete with sound effects–by Armenian soldiers shooting at imaginary foes. After a brief ribbon cutting ceremony the President and his retinue entered the venue, which occupied two floors.
There were just 57 exhibiting companies for this year’s ArmHiTec. But the variety of the exhibition is the clearest proof yet that Yerevan is cultivating allies beyond its longstanding patron Russia whose generous loans have financed the war effort in Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, this past decade. It isn’t surprising that Russia’s military-technological cluster, which includes Almaz-Antey, Rosatom, Rosoboronexport, and Uralvagonzavod, had spacious stands at the show.
Although the Armenian military is equipped like their Russian counterparts notable differences are beginning to arise between them. Judging by the newer pieces of kit displayed at ArmHiTec last week a new doctrine is transforming how the armed forces intends to fight. There was one Chinese company at ArmHiTec and its specialization in fiber optics suggests Yerevan has opened the national economy to either government-to-business partnerships or even direct investments from Chinese technology providers. Another interesting participant was Nexter, the Franco-German armaments conglomerate, whose current dealings with Armenia isn’t readily apparent. Other countries present at ArmHiTec were Bulgaria, Greece, India, and Poland.
But what really made ArmHiTec 2018 noteworthy was the amount of new equipment put on display by local players. Armenia is now almost self-sufficient in the following sectors of its arms industry: apparel, light weapons, drones, and optoelectronics. UAVs in particular commanded a lot of attention with different models put on display, including a loitering “kamikaze” munition shaped like a missile that had a small propeller engine on its tail. This is definitely Armenia’s response to Azerbaijan’s use of an Israeli-made Harpy UAV during the short war in April 2016.
Locally made small arms are getting a lot of exposure as well. Aspar Arms specializes in “modernizing” the Zastava M93 anti-material rifle and the Dragunov SVD. It’s also a distributor for other gun brands from Europe. One of its earlier offerings was an accessorized AK-74 that had a retractable stock and a barrel assembly encased in a suppressor. This was meant for special forces use. It’s not known if these rifles are issued to Armenian soldiers.
It’s in optoelectronics, however, that new possibilities may arise for Armenian manufacturers. One such exhibitor at ArmHitec, LT-Pyrkal, enjoys a growing reputation for its lenses that are used in the medical and scientific sectors. But optoelectronics are vital to guidance systems as well and Armenia’s widespread use of missiles–both anti-tank and anti-air–could be modernized with locally made lenses and sighting complexes sooner than expected.
In recent years Yerevan acquired substantial quantities of advanced weapons, including Iskander ballistic missiles supplied by Russia, but ArmHiTec 2018 could have been a watershed moment. Slowly but surely, Armenia wants to build what it needs for its own national security. It’s a remarkable leap forward for such a small country.