If Armenia Wants Western Defense Support, Doctrine and Partner Engagement Reform Must Happen Now
Armenia cannot protect the indigenous Nagorno-Karabakh people and Republic of Armenia without a competent vanguard. The Armenian Ministry of Defense can continue to rely on Russia, but will Moscow come to Armenia’s aid during another major attack? Probably not.
Armenia’s biggest vulnerability is that it relies on Russia for defense, which has been a noncommittal security guarantor since at least 2016’s Four Day War. After Armenia was attacked by Azerbaijan on sovereign territory, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan pleaded for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian dominated defense treaty alliance. In response the CSTO led sent a civilian delegate on “fact finding mission” damaged areas.
Following the week of attacks U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visited Yerevan and stated Azerbaijan attack as “illegal and deadly”. This diplomatic serendipity to Armenia was a tremendous step for Washington’s advancing relations with Yerevan. However, the Speaker of the House is only one significant leader in the U.S. Government. Nations and non-state actors do not begin formal bilateral cooperation with the U.S. overnight. Cooperation requires many actors in diplomacy, private sector, military, law enforcement, lawmakers, and intelligence, to name some, who share common interest.
The U.S. probably has interests to work with Armenia due to shared democratic values, a bustling tech sector which cooperates with American companies, and diaspora members who carry a significant voice in domestic politics. Armenia very likely has interests to work with the U.S. for the sake of maintaining its sovereignty. Yet one major point of concern for cooperation with Washington is that only Armenia recognizes the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) based on the Soviet Oblast’s referendum in the 1990s. The rest of the world, including Russia and the U.S., recognize Stalin’s redrawn borders placing the Armenian dominate population firmly within Baku’s authority.
The following are opportunities for Yerevan to press for its highest defense needs while soliciting the White House, Pentagon, and Congress for security assistance. Engaging these American actors probably will take more time, which is a luxury Yerevan does not have. Warm weather in the Caucasus is here again and Azerbaijan may attack again.
Need for Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS)
The most significant threat Armenia faces from Azerbaijan are Turkish-made TB-2 drones (UAVs). According to some war fighting experts, the TB-2 and other drones give Azerbaijan a tremendous attack advantage, providing air-to-ground missile fire, while simultaneously giving real time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to troops. The Turkish-made drone was so successful after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War against Armenian procured Russian defense systems that Ukraine decided to use the same weapons system in its war against Russia. Azerbaijan’s seemingly uncontested attack capability from the air can strike infantry vehicles, tanks, and deny logistics to the front lines. Judging from sources online, Armenian Armed Forces and Nagorno-Karabakh Self Defense Forces do not seem to have a viable alternative to counter this great threat from the air.
Yerevan needs to understand that only IADS are the most capable counter to Azerbaijan’s threat from the air. To oversimplify, there are several air defense systems which can deny a threat including, man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), surface to air missiles (SAMs), air artillery guns (AAGs), and air-to-air denial from jets.
One option for Yerevan’s new IADS is the Mistral, a French MANPADS which can counter Azeri threats from the air. It operates in many countries outside France, such as Cyprus, Georgia, Serbia, and others. Although the Mistral has yet to be proven in combat against Turkish drones, it could provide a barrier in the air against Azerbaijan’s greatest weapons. France is the highest favored country by Armenians, according to a U.S. think tank poll, and President Macron’s pro-Armenian rhetoric could lead to an air defense deal. As the TB-2 and other Turkish UAVs are some of the most popular in the world today, a counter weapons system would arguably find great demand.
Every Armenian engineer and defense manufacturer should focus on IADS procurement, and domestic research and development right now, from tracking incoming threats to eliminating them.
Soviet Era Doctrine & Personnel Reform
It logically follows that Russian warfighting doctrine heavily influences Armenian warfighting doctrine. Both borrow from the Soviet Union. In 2011, then-Commanding General of the U.S. Army Europe Mark Hertling and an unnamed Russian General held a conversation on training personnel. General Hertling told his counterpart that without an effective non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps, Russian troops will never be trained effectively. Sure enough, lack of Russian NCOs have been one of the biggest operational issues during their Ukraine campaign. Russian NCOs “Are not in charge of tactics,” Russian military expert Michael Kofman opined to American defense news outlet Defense One “That’s why the Russian military is officer top-heavy. The officer corps handles all those issues that NCOs might.”
Armenia’s conscript-dependent military may desire to emulate the principles of a “professional military” (or “all-volunteer military” – these terms are used interchangeably). Yet, a significant overhaul in doctrine with war potentially imminent likely requires much more dedication in time, resources, and training to overcome critical personnel vulnerabilities. Yerevan can instead task its Ministry of Defense to train a robust NCO corps borrowing from Western doctrine such as the U.S. Call them, for example “Vartan’s Volunteers”, and establish prestige with joining a volunteer all-year NCO corps.
U.S. Medal of Honor Recipient and Afghanistan War Veteran Clint Romesha offered thoughts on what makes efficient NCOs to Task and Purpose, an American military news outlet,
While officers are the ones who put the plan together, it’s those enlisted leaders, the NCOs, who implement it. Even before those orders come down from the officers, the NCOs are moving proactively and preparing the troops, and they are usually the ones fighting with their junior soldiers on the front lines, leading them in combat.
This is not to suggest that Armenian NCOs, officers, or others are not competent. Rather, as some Armenian analysts call for Armenia to become a “Garrison State”, a strong, modern, defense doctrine needs to have “suits” (political and private sector), “stars” (generals and commissioned officers), and “stripes” (NCOs and conscripted) all understand their responsibilities and carry it out effectively. Immediate reform with NCO corps could be a short-term improvement to better improve command and control from the bottom-up, while doctrine is reformed top-down.
For recruitment and conscription guidance, Yerevan can look to nations which have successful programs. Singapore’srelations with Washington are strong and likewise with Yerevan. Singapore’s military has extensively trained with the U.S. and could probably provide insight on personnel, training, and logistics from a civilian to solider mentality. Furthermore, Armenia can utilize contractors from eclectic backgrounds, such as diaspora Armenians from U.S., France, Russia, Lebanon, Greece, or elsewhere. The Armenian government could expand its robust diaspora work-live programs for contractors to train conscripted soldiers, thereby increasing the rate of trained civilians. Moreover, a diaspora group of military experts could perhaps work with the Ministry of Defense as an affiliate council to study and suggest micro and macro-Armenian military inquiries.
Above all, Yerevan must think beyond “pro-Moscow” or “anti-Moscow”. The best militaries in the world borrow strategies, doctrine, operational planning, and more from others to enhance assets to their greatest potential. They do not prepare to fight the last war.
India’s major arms deal to Armenia may be the first step in a blossoming Armenian relationship. Azerbaijan is strongly allied with Pakistan. India and Pakistan historically share animosity. Moreover, India views Armenia as a vital link to for its trade route from Iran through the Black Sea region. Indian Mountain Brigades are some of the best mountain troops in the world. It can be argued that Indian President Modhi could find training Armenia for combat in high terrain to test his best operational and tactical methods for the ongoing challenges with China in their own disputed territory.
French President Macron and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan have spoken over the phone many times since the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. French Sniper Schools are some of the most well-respected institutions in the world. French sniper training to Armenian long-range fighters could prove to be vital for another defensive conflict judging from the rugged terrain and long lines of sight within Armenian territory.
South Korea is a nation which always must consider border security. Perhaps Armenia could learn from South Korean defense against neighboring North Korea, utilizing training programs, expertise on surveillance and counter surveillance, mining, reconnaissance, and communications to headquarters from the forward line of troops.
Equipment & Arms Procurement
Yerevan needs to look beyond Russian suppliers for equipment and arms procurement. Diplomatic loyalty to allies and financial cost can often be problematic factors for nations who desire to bulwark defense capabilities. If Armenia’s ultimate goal is to earn Washington’s trust and purchase arms from the American private sector, Yerevan should engage US friendly countries to procure “surplus” while diaspora and Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs press American private companies and Congress to procure from the “source”.
Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan declined in relations during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War when Saudi Arabia called for peace instead affirming the Azeri position on territorial claims. Saudi Arabia might be under the impression that a crippled Armenia would mean Turkish dominance over the Caucasus region, and therefore may be inclined to send equipment and defensive weapons to Armenia. Yerevan can argue to Riyadh, perhaps making a case that a Turkish dominated Caucasus region would mean that Sunni Muslim nations in the central Asian steppe would be more inclined to follow Turkey rather than Saudi Arabia.
Greece shares over 2,000 years of mostly positive relations with Armenia. Today, Athens confronts hostile rhetoric from Turkey’s President Erdogan. In 2020, Greece accused Turkish troops of making an incursion within Greek territory. In 2022, Athens sent millions of dollars in defense equipment to Ukraine, according to a speech given by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the U.S. Congress. A revamped Greek military considering perceived Turkish aggression and NATO duties to Ukraine could also aid Armenia.
Brazil just concluded the closest election in its history. Armenia can play to the new President Lula da Silva under the guise as the first Christian nation who desires to prevent another genocide on the grounds of protecting democracy and human rights. Lula may want a quick foreign policy victory as an ecumenical issue while Brazil remains divided domestically. The small but impactful Brazilian-Armenian diaspora can be utilized to this degree.
Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christian minority (which shares ties to Armenian Apostolic Christians) recently suffered a tragic deadly loss of 41 believers in a fire. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi may be seeking an opportunity of good will to his non-Muslim supporters, assisting Armenia could be one. Furthermore, Egyptian-Turkish relations have gone through a rough patch since 2013. Yerevan could leverage Egypt if El-Sisi desires to press Turkey in the tense Eastern Mediterranean.
The above are just a few examples. Yerevan should indiscriminately look to the broader US community of allies. Yet most important, the Armenian Diaspora should focus all efforts on one primary goal: earning the trust of the US military defense industry and carry out private sector deals to Yerevan.
The Armenian Diaspora’s extensive networks were instrumental in pushing the recognition of Armenian Genocide by the Executive Branch, Legislative Branch, and state governments. Yet for all the Diaspora’s merits to raise awareness in history, new history can arguably be made if Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh are ethnically cleansed from their homes. Armenian Diaspora can use their tremendously organized body to engage U.S. blue-chip defense contractors. Diaspora education can encourage the American private sector to push Congress for Yerevan to eventually procure American equipment. Once permission is granted, private sector defense contractors can immediately begin selling systems to the now-democratic former Soviet republic for self-defense purposes.
Jack Dulgarian is an independent analyst focusing on security, cultural, political, and economic issues in Eastern Europe and the Near East. He has worked in the defense industry, Capitol Hill, and a refugee humanitarian foundation based out of Athens, Greece.