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The Rocket Artillery Of Azerbaijan Is Overwhelming

May 3, 2021
Pictured from right to left: Two BM-30 Smerch, three EXTRA, a single mobile command post, and two Polonez rocket launchers. Via Azerbaijan media.

There were no shortage of regional conflicts erupting in 2020 amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the entire world. The most bitter and intense saw all out war in the Nagorno-Karabakh (“Artsakh” to Armenians) enclave that Azerbaijan has been trying to reclaim since the 1990s. The 44 days of brutal fighting from September 27 until November 10 ended with a ceasefire and almost permanent territorial gains for Baku, whose military threw its entire might at the defending Armenians. Before the year was out a military parade took place in Azerbaijan’s capital where President Aliyez and his constant ally President Erdogan of Turkey gloated over the spoils taken from the Armenians.

But the same event did help advertise Azerbaijan’s immense and unparalleled selection of rocket artillery.

In a speech delivered to the armed forces after the war Aliyev explained how oil revenues were used for acquiring new equipment and weaponry from multiple suppliers. This was deliberate and a hedge against any diplomatic pressure on Azerbaijan–to ensure it got what it needed, different types of the same equipment were ordered. Little wonder then how Azerbaijan’s military boasts a huge arsenal that puts most former Soviet republics to shame, especially with the drone fleet at Baku’s disposal. Although the country’s fossil fuel exports have shriveled because of volatile global prices, the country’s fiscal status is strong enough to keep its military on high readiness. What better cover for a punitive campaign than a global health crisis?

During the December 10 parade celebrating the outcome of the “Patriotic War” the extent of Baku’s arms spree was cast as a public spectacle. The truly remarkable part aside form the trophies pulled by semi-trailers were the large diameter or long-range rocket launchers the military collected in the last 15 years–these represent the world’s most devastating conventional weapons. Of course, Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet inheritance can’t be understated, since the BM-21 Grad remains in Baku’s arsenal and is joined by its siblings from the Czech Republic, Pakistan, Turkey, but the limited range of these 122mm rocket launchers meant the BM-30 Smerch and the TOS-1A (along with self-propelled artillery such as the Msta-S) later augmented the original inventory. The war in 2020 brought definitive evidence Azerbaijan added KRL-122’s to its Grad inventory–these are launchers and munitions made in Pakistan.

The Smerch and TOS-1A rocket artillery of Azerbaijan did show up near the end of the parade in a formation led by the T-300 Kasirga. These Turkish-made rocket launchers are mounted on Belarusian-made Volat 8×8 trucks rather than the original German MAN trucks as those in Turkish service. The T-300 Kasirga, whose range extends to 120 kilometers when enhanced with a guidance system, complements the equally destructive EXTRA that Azerbaijan did buy in significant quantities. The customizable Israeli-made large diameter rocket launcher whose accurized 300mm munitions blur the lines between a battlefield rocket and a ballistic missile were at the parade too behind the Smerch. The manufacturer of the EXTRA promotes it as the ultimate adaptable precision artillery weapon for end users with its awesome range capable of hitting targets as far as 150 km while its deadliest variant the Predator Hawk, which Azerbaijan hasn’t bought, boasts a range of 300 km.

The need for these overlapping rocket artillery systems is the forbidding terrain of Nagorno-Karabakh, whose local garrison have repulsed the Azeris time and again in the past three decades. The mountainous enclave where the Armenian forces have rings of fixed defenses that renders inadequate the Azerbaijan military’s existing self-propelled and towed howitzers guarantees a stalemate. Mechanized forces are then unable to succeed with frontal assaults even with generous air support. With the T-300 and the EXTRA the Azeris can prepare these rocket launchers at any location beyond Armenian counter-battery fire and put the entire land area of Nagorno-Karabakh within range, thereby eroding the defenders. The Armenians tried the same tactic from inside their territory by using Smerch and Iskander ballistic missiles on Azeri cities but they were defeated by persistent drone surveillance and bombardment.

The latest and now combat proven rocket artillery system of the Azerbaijan military is the Polonez supplied by Belarus. The lineage of the Polonez is interesting; it’s based on a Chinese design and its conventional munitions reaches 200 km, which makes it best-in-class among the world’s current large diameter rockets. There’s some evidence Belarus supplied the extended range munitions for the Polonez to Azerbaijan. The only known analogs with similar characteristics originate in Iran and North Korea whose armies keep vast amounts of artillery. A lingering question about the Polonez’ sold to Azerbaijan is whether the Belarusians included the bespoke short-range ballistic missile that’s carried in tandem by the transporter. Azerbaijan does maintain a stockpile of SRBMs such as the aging Soviet vintage Scarab and the Israeli-made LORA.

At the rate it’s spending on the armed forces, Azerbaijan shall continue expanding its collection of rocket artillery since doing so pays enormous gains for deterrence and war preparation. This trend is apparent in all countries that acquire rocket artillery and their larger varieties but is absent in the Americas and Europe for some reason. If Baku remains on the path of industrializing and onshoring factory production as a bulwark against fickle energy exports, then national arms industry is poised for growth in size and output. Willing partners to supply expertise for eventually assembling ballistic missiles are numerous and it’s surprising how Chinese companies haven’t made inroads in Azerbaijan yet when the T-300 and the Polonez were results of Chinese technology transfers.

If Azerbaijan plans to continue its war later in the decade air power and missile technology will figure in its arms buildup and either can be supplied by trusted allies such as Israel and Turkey.

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