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Azerbaijan Takes Pride In Exporting (Some) Weapons

July 13, 2018

These are Su-25 ground attack jets of the Azerbaijan air force. They aren’t for export. Via Wikimedia Commons.

A quarter century since gaining independence Azerbaijan’s fledgling military industries have graduated to exporting abroad. Although the oil-rich autocracy run by President Ilham Aliyev is still trying to crawl out of an economic crisis, this hasn’t curbed the regime’s appetite for waging war. On June 26 a grandiose military parade in Baku was held to mark a hundred years after Azerbaijan established its own armed forces in 1918.

But since the beginning of the decade Azerbaijan has carefully built a remarkable state-owned military-industrial sector that has easily found customers outside the region. Of course, its neighbors Armenia and Georgia export military products too, but Azerbaijan’s capacity seems larger.

Three months ago the Trend News Agency ran an article claiming the defense ministry, which runs its own factories, had exported products to 10 countries since the first quarter of 2018. None of these customers were identified nor were the “products” actually listed although the article did cite “ammunition, modern small arms and artillery weapons, drones, armored vehicles.” The article also claimed that military exports were now twice higher than last year and the defense ministry controls the production of 118 different kinds of products.

As baffling as the article reads, Azerbaijan has indeed established a small-scale capacity for making a variety of weapons. Checking open sources does show remarkable progress under President Aliyev’s 15 years of leadership. With the annual military budget averaging 4.5% of nominal GDP for the past decade, Baku amassed an arsenal that now includes ballistic missiles and an impressive drone fleet while laying the ground work for its own military industries through joint ventures.

The startup Azad Systems also offers a range of lightweight dumb ordnance for aircraft.

Since 2011 at least, the defense ministry acquired licenses to assemble the Russian AK-74M assault rifle and the PKM light machine gun. Both were subsequently altered to make them compatible with NATO standards. For example, the newer PKM machine guns offered by MODIAR (the state-owned arms factory) have a shortened barrel assembly, a collapsible stock, and top-bottom rail mounts for accessories. These changes are supposed to make it easier to carry for special forces operators.

In 2014, a new arms show was launched in Baku called ADEX that’s held every two years. In each installment MODIAR commanded its own pavilion where it showed off all its products. Since 2016, these included the following:

  • Anti-material rifles in 14.5x114mm (Istiglal) and 12.7x105mm (Mobariz).
  • Artillery ammunition for 122mm and 152mm howitzers.
  • Assorted small arms including AK-74’s, AK-103, handguns, machine guns, and sniper rifles.
  • Automatic grenade launcher similar to the Russian AGS-17 and AGS-30.
  • Bespoke armored cars, including mine-resistant 4×4’s.
  • Low altitude surveillance UAVs.
  • Mortars in three calibers: 120mm, 81mm, 60mm and a 60mm “commando” mortar.
  • Remote controlled turret armed with a 30mm cannon.
  • Revolver type multiple grenade launcher similar to the South African Milkor.
  • RPG-7V recoilless grenade launchers and assorted munitions.
  • SPG-9 recoilless 73mm anti-tank gun.

Unlike Iran, however, there isn’t a detailed index of MODIAR’s entire product range to be found anywhere. It’s unknown if mundane pieces of kit like boots, helmets, and tents are sourced from local companies as well. But there are two recent developments that suggests Azerbaijan’s military industries are rapidly evolving. In 2017 MODIAR announced it was prototyping a new armored car with a remote controlled turret. The Tufan is an all terrain 4×4 meant to fight alongside the heavier mine-resistant trucks deployed by the army that include the Marauder and Matador MRAPs that MODIAR assembles with assistance from South Africa’s Paramount Group.

MODIAR’s pavilion at the ADEX 2016 arms show. The vehicle behind the men in suits is a “tactical” pickup truck armed with door machine guns and an ATGM on the roof.

Another promising enterprise is Azad Systems, an aerospace startup established with Israeli assistance, that specializes in assembling fixed wing and rotary UAVs. Among its achievements are a small artillery spotter drone and a twin-boom model for longer missions. But the army’s reliance on its fleet of Israeli UAVs casts doubt on whether it can field these local variants soon.

Most of the “exports” hailed by Azerbaijan’s media seem to be from MODIAR’s catalog and foreign armies equipped with Chinese and Soviet vintage are the likeliest customers. Selling weapons won’t keep Azerbaijan’s economy afloat, but it’s a good enough start for an industry that’s so young.

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