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Tajikistan Maintains A Large Soviet Arsenal

December 8, 2021
T-62 tanks at a military parade. Via Tajikistan media.

This year saw the poorest Central Asian republic advertise its military strength at an unexpected scale. Over a period of four months Tajikistan’s armed forces took part in multinational exercises and war games as President Emomali Rahmon toured bases to set an important agenda; the situation in Afghanistan had turned against Kabul and the prospect of a victorious Taliban scared Dushanbe. This possibility, which came to pass in mid-August, no doubt motivated Rahmon to keep exhorting his troops and observe solemn parades with marching infantry squares and tank columns.

After about six occasions from July until October where Rahmon addressed his soldiers and police there’s now a clear enough record of how powerful Tajikistan’s armed forces are. Landlocked and surrounded by bigger countries–aside from the fact it’s very poor and indebted to China–Dushanbe maintains enough soldiers to protect its capital and outlying cities in the event of war. They also have a sizable arsenal of Soviet vintage weaponry that were used against neighboring Kyrgyzstan in the summer. With years of generous support from Beijing the army and interior ministry have sufficient resources for at least deterring terrorists.

The weapons and vehicles supplied by China to Tajikistan are well documented. But a proper inventory for Soviet vintage tanks and other equipment is lacking. Most public sources that deal with the Tajikistan military offer an incomplete tabulation. It’s now verified, based on footage of three separate visits by Rahmon to military bases, that a lot of medium tanks are still in working order. At one parade in July the army’s T-72 and T-72B1 battle tanks rumbled in two belching columns together with T-62 and T-62M tanks. The Tajikistan army’s T-62’s either have the “Ilyich eyebrows” armor modules on the turret that look like wedges on either side of the main gun (these are the “M” variant) or original variants with reactive armor bricks attached to the glacis and turret.

In total, Tajikistan’s army have 45 battle tanks that have been shown to the public and are still working. The figure excludes others stored in garages so the actual number of tanks in service is elusive. There are three times as many APCs and IFVs that appeared wherever the army paraded its tanks this year. But the APCs and IFVs are a mixed lot and span the wheeled BTR-70 and BTR-80 and then MT-LB’s and BMP-2’s. (BMP-1’s are in service too.) The army’s BMP-2’s are in dismal condition and are sometimes missing side skirts or their single anti-tank missile launcher on the turret roof. The army does have a few BMD-3 airborne combat vehicles but these mount ZSU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns rather than a standard weapon station. Russia, whose base outside Dushanbe supports an attack helicopter formation and a mechanized brigade, has augmented Dushanbe’s army with Tigr protected 4×4’s, BRDM-2 scout vehicles, and Kamaz trucks.

The artillery kept in working order isn’t too surprising. The most common towed howitzer is the 122mm D-30 while dozens of 2S1 Gvozdikas are the army’s favored self-propelled howitzer. No evidence has come to light of the 2S3 Akatsiya or the 2S5 Giatsint 152mm self-propelled howitzers operated by Tajikistan’s army. The smallest type of artillery in service are SPG-9 portable recoilless rifles that fire 73mm rounds. The most powerful artillery weapon in service is the BM-21 Grad with its 40 launch tubes armed with 122mm short and medium-range munitions. China did supply Tajikistan with some artillery but these are the PCP001’s or automatic 82mm mortars carried on the beds of Dongfeng EQ2050s. There’s a strong probability of China supplying mortars to the army as well.

There’s little to suggest Tajikistan’s defense and interior ministries have received additional funds needed for acquiring better equipment for the armed forces. The presence of the Russians, and the Chinese to a smaller extent, is a reliable status quo for the moment. Should Dushanbe reach out to Beijing for additional military assistance, however, the regional balance of forces can be altered since Chinese-made military technology has surpassed the effectiveness of NATO and Russian technology. There are hundreds of export approved Chinese military products in every conceivable “domain” to choose from and their transformative effect on a small but cohesive military can’t be underestimated.

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