Azerbaijan sets plans for sniper rifles, vehicles and UAVs

Tue 11 July 2017 05:56 GMT | 09:56 Local Time

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News.Az reprints from Defense Industry Bulletin the article 'Azerbaijan sets plans for sniper rifles, vehicles and UAVs' by Georg Mader.

According to Azer Mammadov senior advisor to Baku’s ‘Ministry of Defence Industry of Azerbaijan’ (MODIAR) chief Yaver Jamalov, 23 years of armed conflict with Armenia around Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR) and the occupied provinces have pushed the South Caucasus nation towards significantly improving its defence industry.

Efforts have been made to not only outfit an increasingly powerful national armed force – rated 59th against Armenia’s 95th in the global firepower ranking – but also to export arms and equipment in greater number. Customers include not just the US and Russia, but also neighbouring Georgia, Iraq and at least eight other states.

While much of the country’s military development must be attributed to numerous joint ventures –foremost with Israel, Turkey and South-Africa – Mammadov pointed out that 31 production sites are currently working throughout Azerbaijan as subordinating entities. Together they are making 1,100 articles of defence products.

“Azerbaijani-made weaponry meets the standards of NATO,” he said, adding that MODIAR is working on producing a long-range missile system and an electromagnetic weapon capable of destroying enemy military equipment by 2020. DIB was shown the full variety of ammunition for small arms, mortars and artillery, as well as air-launched bombs, of which some are exported to Turkey, Georgia and Iraq. In 2016, Baghdad requested 500 RPG-7V2 grenade launchers, 500 60mm mortars and the relevant ammunition.

In the US and Russia, Azeri optical instruments and sights that have became increasingly popular. In total, ten nations were mentioned as customers of Azeri arms and equipment. According to Mammadov: “At one point MODIAR has even been forced to refuse orders of some countries, since we were not able to fulfil the size of the order within the short, requested timeframe…”

Heavy Rifles

Azerbaijan’s obvious obsession with long-range sniper- and heavy anti-materiel rifles was explained as “the logics of 23 years of anachronistic WWI-style trench-warfare along the so-called Line-of-Contact around Karabakh and the seven Armenian occupied districts.” While most other armies would call 12.7mm or .50 BMG the limit to man portable small arms, the latest product in service with the Azerbaijani Army – and offered for export – is the 14.5mm ‘Isitigal-T’ (aka NST) rifle. It is said to have corrected certain accuracy problems with 2009’s Istigal (Independence) rifle that many large calibre semi-automatic rifle manufacturers have encountered. It is now magazine-fed and has a new bolt-action, using 14.5x114mm armour-piercing/incendiary bullets (B-32 and BS-41), armour piercing/ incendiary/tracer bullets (BZT-44 and BST), incendiary-bullets (ZP) and instant-effective incendiary bullets (MDZ). Weighing 20kg, Mammadov claimed it to have a maximum-range of 2,000m with a maximum effective range of 1,600m. As far as the author is aware, exports have gone to Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan.

Another precision rifle presented was the bolt action .308 Winchester/.338 Vashaq (Lynx). It can be seen as an Azeri response to the success of the PSR competition in the US, albeit without the .300 Win Mag conversion ability. Before Vashaq there was the similar Yalguzag (Steppenwulf), only available in .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm) with a folding front sight and picatinny rails. According to Mammadov, Yalguzag sniper rifles have begun to be exported to (undisclosed) customers. In 12.7mm, the heavy sniper rifle available is called the Mubariz (a national hero). It is a 5kg lighter version of NST with a five-round magazine.

DIB was invited to try out the latest Zafar-P (‘P’ for Polymer) 9x19mm pistol, one of three models manufactured by MODIAR under license from Turkish TİSAŞ’ Zigana designs. Zigana-K and Zigana-F are
known as ‘Zafar-K’ and ‘Inam’. 17 parts of these are now produced in Azerbaijan and 42 in Turkey. Zafars are now equipping Azeri specialforces, and various add-ons like strobo-lights or lasers are available.

In 2010, a licence was given by Russia’s Kalashnikov/ Izhevsk to MODIAR for production of 120,000 AK-74M assault rifles. While demonstrating a 2017 model to us, Mammadov explained that current production will run until 2021. 

Protected vehicles

While at an OCC (Operation Capability Concept alongside Nato evaluation) rapid battalion demonstration, DIB encountered some of the 85 delivered EVM licence-produced Paramount (of South Africa) Matador and Maurauder MRAPVs with locally adapted transmissions and 14.5mm RWS-turrets. However, Mamamdov preferred to highlight the first fully domestically produced vehicle – the Tufan.

This 4x4 MRAP vehicle was designed by the National Aerospace Agency and will be assembled at the AGREGAT factory near Baku.

It features a STANAG 3/3A level of armour, weighing 14.7 tons with a payload of 2.3 tons. A 360 hp turbocharged diesel enables a maximum road speed of 85 km/h. Tufan is completed by a stablised RWS with a 12.7mm NVS machinegun, 10 smoke-grenade launchers, a hydraulic rear-door and 360° cameras. Together with modular multi-calibre RWS for 12.7/14.5 mm or 20/23 mm by MIDAR’s Jihaz PA (project is being finalised) Mammadov told us that Tufan will be produced from 2018 in variations of medical evacuation, air-defence/ anti-armour, anti-riot and basic APC, and will then also be available
for export.

‘Killer UAVs’

Although described as a WWIstyle ‘trench-war’, daily incidents of conflict over recent years have heavily involved various UAV activities from both sides. For Baku, this means acquisitions and joint developments from and with Israel. While the Azeri Forces are using Herons and local manufacturer AZAD is producing Aeronautic’s Aerostar, it was the so-called ‘killer drones’ that had Mammadov enthused. He did not deny the legitimacy of a video released days after intense fighting in April 2016 that showed an Israeli-made Harop UAV with a 15kg warhead hitting a bus carrying Armenian soldiers along the Karabakh line of contact in suicide-mode, killing seven. Mammadov also revealed that AZAD’s current work is concentrated on Zarba-1K, the local derivative of Aeronautics’ Orbiter-K. The loitering/suicide-type craft, he said, “has a high-explosive cumulative warhead that’s already been adopted and was handed over to the MoD. There also is a launching-vehicle outfitted with a catapult and we expect to complete test work within a few months, after which we plan to field 100 of them…Due to its very low acoustic signature it is not detectable until two seconds before diving into
attack”.

It can however fly for up to three hours, carrying a multi-sensor camera with day/night channels and, if no target is designated or located, it returns to base via parachute and airbag.

The Azerbaijani Air Force detected and destroyed a tactical UAV near Azerbaijan’s Agdam region on 2 March. As Russia supports – or rather protects Armenia – while selling arms to both sides, it
was predictable that the UAV was identified as a Russian-built X-55 UAV carrying-out recce over Azeri positions. A week earlier, Azerbaijani armed forces destroyed an Armenian UAV near Talish, one month after another was destroyed on 22 January near Tovuz. Meanwhile, Armenian press agencies are claiming that Azerbaijan lost 14 UAVs of various types since operations began along the NKR LoC.

 Three UN Security Council Resolutions (853, 874 and 884), and UN General Assembly Resolutions 19/13 and 57/298 refer to Karabakh as being part of Azerbaijan. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe refers to the seven regions around Karabakh as being occupied by Armenian forces since 1994.

Author’s comment: Azerbaijan’s military budget for 2016 was around US$1.46bn, a sharp drop compared to the $3.1bn in 2011, thanks in large part to wilting oil prices. Nevertheless, the country’s defence spending still exceeds the overall state budget of occupant Armenia by more than $1bn. From 2011, the state budget began including a category for ‘private defence-oriented projects and events’ and, up to last year, an additional $ 6.1bn was allocated towards this fund.

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