Skip to content

Azerbaijan Maintains An Immense Tank Fleet

March 10, 2022
T-72B tanks of the army. Via Azerbaijan defense ministry.

Having spent 20 years building a military that can defeat its neighbor Armenia the oil-rich dictatorship on the Caspian Sea still believes in warfare as a means to an end. This is apparent with the advertising released by the defense ministry through its social media channels. It was this very same network that built a public record for Azerbaijan’s aerial supremacy during the reconquest of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. Years later and the defense ministry’s online presence serves as a catalog of what the armed forces keeps in working order–including tanks. Lots and lots of tanks.

Azerbaijan is a known operator of the Russian-made T-90S main battle tank, which is a very competitive model that enjoys numerous upgrades, but the ground forces still retain older Soviet vintage armor. This is surprising given the billions of dollars Baku lavished on sophisticated weapon systems and the many different battle tanks available in the global market. However, the likeliest reason for keeping its Soviet armor is familiarity. No wonder hundreds of T-72B and T-72B1’s are in service. These are the earliest variants of the prolific Soviet model that many former republics inherited after 1991. Azerbaijan’s defense ministry also produced evidence–through a short video clip–that antiquated weapon systems are kept serviceable too such as the T-55 medium tank. (See photo below.)

During the 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh that saw the Armenians decimated scores of armored vehicles were seized and repurposed by Azerbaijan. There’s even footage of an Armenian T-72B/B1, the variant recognizable for its Kontakt-1 reactive armor, being repainted in the field and driven away by an Azerbaijani crew. Months of grinding combat left scores of damaged and semi-functional T-72 tanks in Karabakh. When a military parade was held to commemorate victory in the “Patriotic War” the captured enemy armor included not just tanks but BMP-2 IFVs, MT-LB APCs, ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” anti-aircraft artillery, and BM-21 Grad launchers.

T-55 medium tanks undergoing maintenance. Via Azerbaijan defense ministry.

The exact number of medium and main battle tanks operated by Azerbaijan can be larger than estimates in the low hundreds. In February a video clip of an armored unit’s motor pool in an undisclosed location showed at least 14 T-72 tanks and 12 BMP-2 IFVs. Months earlier, an official visit by President Ilham Aliyev and his spouse to a garrison near the southern border showed tanks and APCs among the displayed military equipment. If the numerous small bases operated by the armed forces, with new ones built in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Nakhchivan exclave bordering Turkey, where each have a detachment of tanks and other combat vehicles the total may reach an impressive figure.

Even with its high spending on its military coupled with available infrastructure it’s surprising there’s little evidence of upgrades for Azerbaijan’s armored fleet, especially on outdated T-series tanks. All the countries that supply weapons and equipment to Baku–these are, in order of importance, Turkey, Israel, Russia, Czech Republic, Pakistan–have the expertise to either improve or assemble tanks. Adding new main guns and thermal sights to old tanks should be within reach. Despite the success of localized production for lightly armored vehicles and unmanned aircraft Baku’s defense ministry has shown no interest in an armored vehicles plant to carry out this work.

Apart from its tanks the armed forces boasts an immense selection of artillery and rocket artillery sourced from five different countries. This is on top of weapons collected, inherited, and stockpiled after the Soviet Union’s collapse. In the shadow of the destructive war pitting Russian against Ukraine and other volatile geopolitical events the emergence of Azerbaijan as a country bent on territorial expansion is unprecedented.

Comments are closed.