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Azerbaijan Concerned by India’s Weapons Sales to Armenia

Recent events in the South Caucasus have highlighted an overlooked development in the global weapons market: the rise of India as an arms exporter. Armenia has purchased Indian armaments amid ongoing tensions with Azerbaijan, a close ally of Pakistan and Turkey, procuring a variety of munitions, including anti-tank missiles, Pinaka Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) and long-range artillery. Baku became particularly concerned after Azerbaijani media outlets streamed a video allegedly showing the transfer of Pinaka MLRS complexes to Armenia via Iran. On July 26, Azerbaijani Presidential Foreign Policy Advisor Hikmat Hajiyev met Indian Ambassador Sridharan Madhusudhanan, informing him that the Azerbaijani government was closely following and increasingly concerned about “deepening” military cooperation between Armenia and India. Hajiyev also urged India to revise its decision to supply weapons to Armenia, as supplying lethal weaponry while Yerevan and Baku are holding peace treaty discussions “paves the way for Armenia’s militarization” and “impedes the establishment of lasting peace and security in the South Caucasus” (Trend.az, July 26).

New Delhi’s emergence as a defense exporter is relatively recent. While India currently remains the world’s leading arms importer, it has taken significant steps not only to diversify its defense procurement strategy but also to export weapons to over 80 countries, with the United States as a prominent customer. The Pinaka MLRS, developed by India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), is often considered a counterpart to the American HIMARS (High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System). Moreover, Indian companies have received orders from major US defense firms to supply parts for advanced weapons platforms, including F-16 fighters as well as Chinook and Apache helicopters. The Armenian export orders, which include Pinaka MLRS, artillery and various caliber ammunition, along with other systems, have further boosted India’s 2023 weapons exports (Economic Times, June 13).

Beyond their potential to destabilize the fragile de-facto truce in the South Caucasus, Western concerns over Armenia’s weapons purchases were heightened by the fact that the Indian arms transited through heavily sanctioned Iran, being delivered through the Iranian Port of Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf and then overland by road to the Nurduz border crossing to Armenia (News.ru, July 26).

Overall, Indian-Armenian armament deals predate the latest dispute, with security cooperation between the two sides dating back to at least 2011; military-technical cooperation dates back to 2017 (Media.az, July 31). Such defense exports are bound to rise as a result of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resolve to make the country Atmanirbhar Bharat (“self-reliant India” ) in military supplies (Economic Times, June 13). India’s lucrative defense sector is closely linked to the Modi government’s economic and strategic ambitions and forms an increasingly central element in the government’s “Made in India” program. Spurring on New Delhi’s drive for self-sufficiency in arms production is rising governmental concern that the spate of additional sanctions imposed by the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners on Russia in the wake of its “special military operation” (SVO) against Ukraine is likely to constrain further Indian arms imports from Russia—a major concern for India’s military, which remains heavily dependent on them.

Despite the gaps in arms production, Indian defense exports have undergone an extraordinary 800-percent increase since 2016–2017, from around $184 million (₹Rs 1,522 crore) to about $1.66 billion (₹Rs 13,800 crore). Buoyed by this surge, New Delhi has set the goal of expanding defense exports to $4.23 billion (₹Rs 35,000 crore) by 2024–2025 (Economic Times, June 13).

Encouraging domestic arms production is spurred by the significant cost of imports over the past two decades, during which India spent over $60 billion on arms procurement, with nearly $39 billion being purchased from Russia. In response, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh has articulated a vision of ordering over $100 billion worth of weaponry from the domestic arms industry over the next decade, symbolizing India’s commitment to increasing its self-sufficiency (IndraStra, August 2).

All in all, munitions purchases between the Armenian and Indian militaries have rapidly increased as of late (Caliber.az, July 26). The most recent deals build on earlier Indian-Armenian military contacts, as the pair had previously signed contracts worth over $400 million. For an earlier military purchase in 2020, Armenia bought four Indian Swathi latest-generation phased array radars for $40 million, jointly produced by the DRDO and Bharat Electronics to detect and direct counter-battery fire against enemy ordinance. (EurAsian Times, July 27).

New Delhi’s decision to sell military equipment to Armenia in greater quantities has had wider regional repercussions, leading Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to describe the sale as an “unfriendly move” (Daijiworld.com, August 4).

The sale of India’s first indigenously designed and developed Pinaka Multiple-Barrel Rocket Launchers further indicates a broader potential global niche market for Indian-manufactured weaponry, which can undercut more expensive US, European, Russian and Chinese armaments in hotspots throughout the Global South, including in Africa. In the interim, Indian-Azerbaijani ties continue to be lukewarm against the backdrop of Baku’s close security ties with Islamabad (see EDM, June 21).

Additional Armenian purchases of Indian armaments seem likely, as Yerevan has authorized a 46-percent increase from its 2022 defense budget to $1.3 billion for 2023 (Caspian News, July 27).

A primary objective of Modi’s “Made in India” initiative is to lessen the technological disparity with India’s better-equipped rival, China, which is further complicated by Beijing’s close alliance with Pakistan. A further challenge facing the Indian military is the impact of Russia’s stalemated invasion in Ukraine, which has hampered Moscow’s ability to fulfill arms and equipment orders, which may serve to further incentivize India’s Atmanirbhar Bharat program. While Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot be happy about India’s weapons sales in the post-Soviet space, he cannot afford to alienate India, as it is a critical market for Russian arms and energy exports amid shrinking global demand for both (see EDM, April 27).

For Russia, Armenia broadening its options for arms imports is yet another disquieting reminder of Moscow’s diminishing influence in its “front yard,” as it sinks further into the mire of its Ukrainian assault, with the US, China and now India maneuvering in the resultant Eurasian geopolitical vacuum.

Source: James Town