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Azerbaijan Takes Care Of Its Big Tank Fleet

July 19, 2022
Via Azerbaijan defense ministry.

Fresh propaganda released by the defense ministry showed a bustling maintenance and repair plant in the capital Baku. This is the most up to date proof yet of the country having a substantial industrial sector for supporting the armed forces. According to the defense ministry this location was activated in 1992 and is equipped for overhauling artillery, tanks, rocket artillery, and all types of vehicles. In the footage it shared a row of disassembled T-72 tanks occupied the facility. Azerbaijan’s ground force operate the T-72 and T-72B1 along with old T-55’s and more advanced T-90S’.

Although it’s possible to assemble tanks and other tracked armored vehicles at the “Baku GAZ” plant it’s too small and ill-equipped for an active production line needed for manufacturing complete tanks. Many Asian countries have launched indigenous main battle tanks from their state-owned factories and results are often mixed. Turkey’s struggle with its sophisticated Altay battle tank, for example, has dragged out because of supply chain issues–a drive train and engine needed to be imported from abroad–even when the main contractor FNSS has a suitable production facility at its disposal. For assembling Soviet vintage T-series tanks such as the T-72, on the other hand, multiple production lines for the turret casting, gun barrel, and hull assembly are needed together with heavy duty overhead cranes. Much like Soviet “tractor plants” of yore these are all concentrated in a single location.

The T-72 remains the most popular second-generation main battle tank (the “premium” T-80 was considered a third-generation model) operated by up to three dozen armies worldwide. It’s still heavily used in active conflicts, including the ongoing war in Ukraine where almost a thousand units of it have been lost, and saw extensive combat during the 2010s where it figured in the Libyan civil war, the South Sudanese civil war, the Ukrainian Donbas war, the Syrian civil war, the war against the Islamic State caliphate, the Yemen conflict, and the last struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. Although renowned for its reliability, speed, and firepower the T-72’s external characteristics are outdated; without layers of passive and reactive armor plate the circular turret is too vulnerable against high explosive charges and specially designed penetrators.

Since its hard-won victory against Armenia two years ago Azerbaijan didn’t hide its plans to rebuild the armed forces–equipment losses were significant–and the first stage was securing replenishment from third parties such as Belarus and Turkey then consolidating newly occupied territory. The Turkish Baykar Akinci combat drones, with five times the payload of a twin-boom TB2, are now rumored to be the next big leap for Baku’s growing air power. Fresh arms deals with Russia haven’t materialized yet although the army in particular are reliant on Russian-made armored vehicles and trucks. Regardless, the inventory of Russian-made combat vehicles remains significant.

While it’s true Azerbaijan’s state-owned military industries are now able to export its excess production it’s doubtful if the defense ministry, which has direct control of the industrial sector that supports the armed forces, carries out plans for main battle tank production soon. Such endeavors are costly and time-consuming and are reliant on foreign partners who supply the armaments, crew systems, driving components, engines, optics, vehitronics, and sundry parts. (Ukraine’s state-owned companies used to be excellent suppliers for armored vehicle factories in China and Pakistan, but this era may have ended.) Localizing all of these depends on how industrial policy is established and is never fully successful. To cite multiple examples, India and South Korea have tank manufacturing facilities whose models are reliant on German-made engines and transmissions.

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