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Azerbaijan Spent A Fortune On Anti-Tank Missiles

October 1, 2021
Via Azerbaijan defense ministry.

Recent footage of a training center for Azerbaijan’s army revealed the sophisticated weapons it can deploy if hostilities resume against Armenia. The two countries fought each other to exhaustion in 2020 with Azerbaijan making serious territorial gains because of Turkey’s unwavering support. Weapons imported from Israel also mattered. Seen in the photo above are a Rafael Spike LR2 and the Spike ER2. Both are top attack anti-tank missiles manufactured by Rafael and have extreme range and proven combat records. The Spike ER2 in particular can almost be considered the best ATGM in its class with a maximum range of 10 kilometers and sophisticated target acquisition.

According to Rafael’s product information the Spike ER2 is a “multi-platform” missile that can be adapted for surface-to-surface or air-to-surface launches. It was already known that Azerbaijan’s army had the Spike ER2 on some of its prized Sandcat 4×4 APCs. But it’s now apparent the infantry variant of the Spike ER2 is also in service. The obvious size difference between the Spike ER2 and the Spike LR2 shows the crucial differences among the bestselling munition family. The layout of the Spike ER2 when fully assembled is reminiscent of an earlier Israeli-made anti-tank missile–the MAPATS that shared many commonalities with the US-made BGM-71 TOW.

Azerbaijan’s army have an enormous arsenal by the standards of “former Soviet republics”–the different countries in the Baltics, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia that once formed the Soviet Union–and it helped that strong demand for the country’s oil earned enough revenue for Baku to arms race with its neighbor. Armenia was also a persistent importer of advanced military technology but not on the same scale as Azerbaijan. Besides having ample stocks of Russian-made Konkurs and Kornet-E anti-tank missiles Azerbaijan still acquired the Khrizantema “tank destroyer” that’s also armed with missiles that have a maximum range of 4 km. The army has no shortage of anti-tank weapons; copies of the RPG-7 rocket launcher and SPG-9 recoilless rifle are made by a local state-owned factory.

One reason why Azerbaijan turned to Israel for supplying its military in the 2000s is the long stalemate over Nagorno-Karabakh where the Armenians had the advantage of geography. This seems to have been the main reason why the battles in 2016 were so inconclusive as well as the skirmishes in the summer of 2020 before all-out war erupted in September that same year. The inventory of Azerbaijan’s ground forces does reflect a carefully planned force structure equipped to overcome Nagorno-Karabakh’s soaring terrain defined by soaring ridges, valleys, and gorges. The rocket artillery, for example, is sourced from at least five different countries and allows Azeri forces to saturate the entire battlespace in Nagorno-Karabakh with precision fires. The army’s impressive fleet of drones, foreign and locally made, serve the same purpose and achieved spectacular results in the 2020 battles.

Possessing top attack anti-tank missiles fits this doctrine where precision fires and situational awareness over mountainous terrain is essential. This makes the Spike ER2, with its extreme range and the munition’s loitering flight trajectory, a superb weapon system to deploy against Armenian fortifications. The size of Azerbaijan’s anti-tank missile stockpile isn’t publicly available but judging by the combat from 2020, which lasted five weeks from September 27 until November 10, it must be at least in the low thousands. An almost complete record of the Israeli-made weapon systems acquired by Azerbaijan is easier to examine. These span the entire small arms catalog of Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI); air defenses and ballistic missiles from Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI); a complete selection of fixed wing drones from Elbit Systems; more artillery supplied by Elbit Systems (the Spear mortar, Lynx multiple rocket launcher, ATMOS truck howitzers); a fleet of armored vehicles assembled by Plasan; and precision-guided ordnance made by Rafael.

Russia and Turkey are also major suppliers of the Azerbaijan armed forces although the assortment of Soviet-era equipment it keeps in working order isn’t disappearing soon. A small-scale military-industrial sector bankrolled by the state is flourishing and has a minor track record in exports. Considering the trajectory of Azerbaijan’s war plans and the investments it makes for self-sufficiency–state-owned manufacturers already produce glide bombs and loitering munitions–it’s interesting to speculate whether Israel or Turkey opens a missile production line in the country soon.

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