AZERBAIJAN-GEORGIA MILITARY COOPERATION AND TURKEY's INFLUENCE (2)

Today's Zaman, Turkey
May 30 2013

ZAUR SHIRIYEV
[email protected]

As discussed in my previous column, the political-military realities
of the post-2008 period saw changes in the military strategies of
Baku and Tbilisi, with each country redefining its priorities. These
changes have demonstrated some key differences between the policies
pursued by each government. The main difference is that Azerbaijan,
with its huge military budget, is better equipped to purchase military
equipment from foreign companies or countries. However, due to
restrictions on arms sales, Baku can only trade with a few partners,
mainly the former Soviet countries (Ukraine, Russia and Belarus),
though it also has a strong partnership with Israel in this field.

Unlike Baku, Georgia's smaller military budget has restricted the
development of its defense industry, and it also has doubts about
cooperating with Israel; both of these factors have led Tbilisi to
look for new opportunities.

In this regard, both countries focused on the development of their
defense industries and bilateral cooperation in this sector for the
following key reasons:

>From a strategic perspective, both countries would like reduce their
dependency on foreign military suppliers and better provide for their
armies, both in terms of military readiness and modernization. The
development of their defense industries may allow them to sell their
own weapons to foreign countries; they may be able to start trading
with former Soviet Union (FSU) and Central Asian countries.

>From a military perspective, the short-term aim for both countries
in terms of the defense industry is to produce drones, tanks and
different kinds of artillery.

>From an intelligence perspective, Tbilisi, with its more modernized
military intelligence service, could provide military cadre training.

The two countries can also share military intelligence more frequently
and cooperate to combat common military/non-military threats; their
2002 mutual defense agreement stressed this point.

Therefore, since 2009, defense industry cooperation between Azerbaijan
and Georgia has been improving. The reason for this is that since 2008,
new opportunities have arisen. Prior to 2008, Baku had long demanded
that Tbilisi stop letting Armenia repair its battle tanks and other
armored techniques at a Russian munitions factory in Tbilisi.

Once Georgia cut ties with Moscow and agreed, high level ministry
of defense visits from Azerbaijan to Georgia commenced and both
sides reached a compromise. This stimulated the development of their
defense industry cooperation. The initial agreement was for Baku to
help modernize Georgia's tanks and aircraft repair plants.

But defense cooperation between the two countries is likely to become
stronger, especially after Georgia's Defense Minister Irakli Alasania
took office and declared that one of the country's priorities will
be enhancing and strengthening its defense cooperation with close
strategic allies, namely Azerbaijan and Turkey. On March 18, Alasania
visited Baku and signed a bilateral cooperation plan for 2013. The
details were not disclosed but cooperation is likely to include:

First of all, upgrading the military factories in both countries
and jointly producing equipment. Georgia plans to produce modernized
versions of the SU-25 aircraft at the Tbilisi Aerospace Manufacturing
Company (TAM) and Tbilisi has spoken to Azerbaijan about the financing
of the project and the establishment of joint production. Azerbaijan
purchased 13 attack aircraft from Georgia in 2002-2003, and it is
possible that Azerbaijan will buy Tbilisi Aerospace Manufacturing
Company (TAM) in the near future.

Secondly, it is in the interests of both sides to improve Azerbaijan's
defense industry with the aim of jointly producing armored vehicles and
equipment. However in the last three years, Azerbaijan's cooperation
with different foreign countries has opened up opportunities for
Georgia to acquire modern military technologies with the help of
Azerbaijan.

Thirdly, both countries will cooperate with Turkey, which is much
more accomplished in the defense industry. Turkey's indigenous
defense programs encompass the full spectrum of military operations
and include major areas across land, air, sea and space. As stated
by Georgia's defense minister, Tbilisi is interested in trilateral
format cooperation. Meanwhile, defense cooperation between Turkey and
Azerbaijan dates back further than Turkish-Georgian ties but for both,
cooperation with Turkey in the defense industry marks a new page in
their partnership.

According to military sources and Jane's Defense Weekly's reports,
Turkey is developing its defense industry in many areas. Its most
ambitious defense program is its indigenous fighter project F-X,
through which the country aims to eventually replace the single engine
Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter aircraft in the Turkish Air Force (TAF)
service with a nationally designed and built platform. Additionally,
In January, Turkey decided to abandon its plans to buy an off-the-shelf
system for its T-Loramids surface to-air missile (SAM) program and
is now seeking to co-develop a SAM system as part of the country's
ambition to become self-sufficient in defense technologies.

Beyond the possible trilateral format cooperation in defense
industries, all sides agreed to jointly strengthen military exercises.

Since September 2006, under the framework of a NATO program,
trilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey in
pipeline security has taken place annually. Moreover, under the
trilateral format, Azerbaijani, Georgian and Turkish special forces
conducted the Caucasus Eagle 2012 military exercises for the first
time and will conduct these every year. The next steps seem to be
Azerbaijan and Turkey's attendance at a joint US-Georgian military
exercise in 2014, which Georgia's defense minister suggested joining
during his visits to Baku and Ankara.

In this regard, the urgent need for an improvement in the trilateral
format of cooperation in the defense industry and military training
could be strengthened in the near future if the countries sign a
defense industry cooperation agreement at the trilateral level.

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