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Armenia Approves Army Modernization Plan

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian attends military exercises held by the Karabakh Armenian Army in November

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian attends military exercises held by the Karabakh Armenian Army in November

YEREVAN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his National Security Council have approved a five-year plan to modernize the armed forces, including the acquisition of long-range, precision-guided weapons, RFE/RL reports.

Sarkisian's office referred to the plan as the "State Program for Developing Weaponry and Military Hardware in 2011-2015." It said over the weekend that the military will receive "state-of-the-art weapons" and become "considerably" stronger as a result.

"With the adoption of this program, we are taking an important step to neutralize all possible military threats to Armenia's security," the secretary of the National Security Council, Artur Baghdasarian, said on December 13. "Yerevan will not only get hold of modern armaments but also develop the domestic defense industry."

The modernization plan is essentially based on two documents approved in August by a government commission on defense and national security. One of the documents dealt with army weaponry, while the other detailed measures to develop the defense industry.

"The two programs envisage both the acquisition of state-of-the-art weapons and their partial manufacturing by the local defense industry," Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said at the time. He said this will enhance the army's "long-range strike capacity" and enable it to "thwart free enemy movements deep inside the entire theater of hostilities."

Speaking to journalists on August 10, Ohanian did not deny that the modernization plan is connected with the risk of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war over the breakawayAzerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In an interview with RFE/RL two weeks later, he said the long-range weapons sought by Yerevan would be aimed at "strategic facilities" of hostile neighbors.

The Armenian military is believed to be equipped with short-range tactical missiles capable of striking targets in Azerbaijan.

Ohanian spoke to RFE/RL just days after Yerevan and Moscow signed a new agreement prolonging and upgrading Russia's military presence in Armenia. The defense pact also stipulates that Moscow will help Yerevan obtain "modern and compatible weaponry and [special] military hardware."

The precise type of these weapons is not yet known.

Baghdasarian effectively acknowledged a link between the pact signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's August visit to Yerevan and the modernization plan endorsed by Sarkisian. He noted that Medvedev and Sarkisian also oversaw the signing of another deal that calls for closer cooperation between the Armenian and Russian defense enterprises. Baghdasarian reaffirmed the two governments' plans to set up joint defense ventures.

The planned modernization of the Armenian armed forces comes amid a continuing military build-up in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani leaders' threats to end the Karabakh conflict by force. The Azerbaijani government's defense spending is due to soar to more than $3 billion next year. The Armenian defense budget for 2011 is projected to be $405 million.

Armenia has sought to at least partially offset the widening spending gap with close military ties with Russia. Its membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) allows it to receive Russian weapons at cut-rate prices or even for free.

According to Baghdasarian, these "privileged terms" were reinforced by one of the documents adopted during the latest summit of the CSTO member states held in Moscow late last week. The official also announced that Armenia will host a CSTO military exercise in October 2011.