Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan
Pakistan and Azerbaijan being strategic allies share common historic, cultural and religious values. The relationship between the two countries has covered economic, defence, political and diplomatic cooperation since Azerbaijan’s independence. Military and defence cooperation between Azerbaijan-Pakistan is signified by continuous dialogue in the form of high-level meetings, workgroups and other similar interactions between the respective bodies and institutions of both states.
In fact, the country’s defence industry has grown and developed over the years since independence under the Ministry of Defence Industry established in 2005. The bulk of its industrial production are small arms, although, armoured vehicles are also manufactured locally. Azerbaijan‟s signature production is the Istiglal IST14.5 anti-material sniper rifle; the Matador and Marauder mine-protected armoured vehicle, as well as Inam and Zafar pistols and UP-7.62 submachine guns.
In February 2014, Pakistan and Azerbaijan signed the “Bilateral Military Cooperation Agreement”. The agreement was signed during the fifth meeting of the “Azerbaijan-Pakistan Working Group” on Military Cooperation held in Islamabad. Azerbaijani delegation was led by the head of the International Military Cooperation Department under the Defence Ministry, Major General Ramiz Najafov. The same updated document was signed on April 1, 2015 during the Working Group meeting in Baku. On September 11, 2014 during the first Azerbaijan International Defence Industry Exhibition “ADEX 2014”, Azerbaijan‟s Defence Minister Zakir Hasanov met Chairman of the National Engineering and Scientific Commission, Muhammad Irfan Burney during his visit to Baku.
On November 18 of the same year, Zakir Hasanov also paid a visit to Pakistan. During the visit, Hasanov held several meetings with the leadership of Pakistan and the armed forces of the country. Defence cooperation and regional security were discussed during his visit. When the President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain visited Azerbaijan in March 2015, military cooperation was stressed as a fundamental building block for improving bilateral relations and the opportunity to work together in the area of defence technology was taken up during the high-level negotiations. Pakistan has also trained around a 100 units of military personnel in Azerbaijan over the past decade. Creation of the Pakistan-Azerbaijan Business Forum, with a special focus on defence equipment, is another example of mutual defence cooperation.
There are strong politico-military ties between Azerbaijan and Pakistan. However, the cooperation can and should extend beyond the already customary military personnel trainings, ad hoc common military exercises and mutual visits and discussions. Prospects of cooperation are already there.
Azerbaijan and Pakistan hold relatively similar weaponry and military vehicle systems. It is, therefore, logical that military cooperation can also include regular military exercises between the comparable services of both armed forces. Exchange of valuable strategic information as well as common approaches towards the territorial armed conflict postures can be a natural extension in improving bilateral relations in defence.
Since 2007, Azerbaijan has been expressing interest in importing the JF-17 multi-role fighters from Pakistan.55 It is also interested in diversifying its portfolio of arms purchases from the latter. It is, therefore, both strategically and economically important for Pakistan to seriously move forward on imports of military equipment (fighter aircraft, tanks or rockets) to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan‟s Istiglal anti-material rifles and other small arms are also ideal for use in mountainous and tough terrains. Pakistan should consider including them in its basket given their competitive price, high quality and efficiency.
It would be valuable to reiterate future strategic military cooperation in a bilateral agreement which can solidify political will between the two countries. Annual regular meetings between Working Groups should now lead to a combined military and defence cooperation committee of equal participation to deal with all aspects of the security sectors‟ cooperation; and be able to implement strategic provisions of the proposed bilateral military cooperation agreement.
A series of regular military exercises between the two countries should be conducted which could be extended to include land, air and naval forces, as well as air defence and strategic planning. Both should consider enlarging the scale of mutual exchange of military personnel for training and military education.
The two countries should also extend cooperation in the area of arms trade and develop a framework of sales of small arms and heavy military equipment according to the needs of each state in order to address the specific needs of the security sector. This framework can include bartering of arms based on “preferred customer” program, thus, reducing budgetary expenditures.
Azerbaijan has also showed keen interest to buy JF-17 Thunder Block-III which is the state-of-the art warplane with element of affordability. It has the latest radar system, weaponry/electronic gadgetry and new engine etc. It is indeed a light weight multirole fighter plane.
Pakistan’s defense ministry was invited to demonstrate JF-17 aircraft at ADEX-2016 for the first time during which Azerbaijan defense industry showed interest in importing the new jet fighters from Pakistan.
In the same year, Azerbaijan’s first deputy Prime Minister Yaqub attended International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in Karachi where he reiterated his government interest in buying new aircraft from Pakistan.
Being prominent regional expert of Azerbaijan and CIS, I would like to quote latest reports and research studies of Global Times and Euro Asian Times and many famous military journals indicating numerous comparative advantages of JF-17 Thunder over its contemporary competitors like Tejas, Swedish Gripens, US F-16 A and Korean F-50. JF-17 Block-III is a 4+ Generation combat aircraft.
It has immense modern technologies like new and large holo-graphic wide-angle head display, integrated cockpit display, advanced infrared missile approach warning system. So acquisition oif JF-17 Thunder will further improve air defence and air superiority of Azerbaijan which may be used for strike and attack missions having smart dumb bombs, missile which can even carry nuclear arsenals.
From ages of Aristotle to Gingish Khan, Chankya to Asoka the great to modern day super powers, strong defence is the best deterrence against any external aggression. It is the bitter lessons of even modern human civilization that weakness seduces aggression and preparedness guarantees nation pride and territorial sovereignty. So being prominent regional expert of Azerbaijan & CIS the prospects of resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh would be brighter with the changing power equation after acquisition of JF-17 Thunder Block-III from Pakistan.
It is true that MIG-35 and SU-35 do have some advantages over JF-17 Block-III but if we minutely, examine the overall maneuverability, technological capabilities and price analysis of JF-17 Thunder, we may come to conclusion that acquisition of JF-17 Thunder is still the best choice for Azerbaijan.
First I would like to highlight JF-17 Block-III salient features which does not confine to superior situational edge, combat facilities, PL-15 missile, high fuel capacity, modern engine RD-33 MK, advanced active radar system, price 20-25 US Million whereas, MIG-35 & SU-35 range 65-75 US Million, stealth technology (combat aircraft magazine), much better warplane than MIG-35 in dog-fight, and last but not least, double seated.
Let us discuss the other interrelated geopolitical constrains of acquisition of MIG-35. As we know Russian has already sold-out MIG-35 to Armenia a regional enemy of Azerbaijan. According to many latest reports of Bulgarian military.com and Azerbaijan national news agency, Azerbaijan pilots have already visited Russia and examined MIG-35 & SU-35.
Being prominent regional expert of Azerbaijan & CIS I fear that Azerbaijan’s acquisition of MIG-35 & SU-35 may have created serious budgetary deficits as it is comparatively much higher than JF-17 Thunder. Acquisition of MIG-35 & SU-35 from Russian may be conditional which may be defensive in nature with not to be used against Armenia in the war. It has already happened with Pakistan which bought F-16 from the US which did not allow it to use F-16 against India. So, operating expenses of MIG-35 & SU-35 would be higher than JF-17 Thunder.
The Writer is Director: Geopolitics/ Economics Member Board of Experts: CGSS, Pakistan Regional Expert: Azerbijan & CIS.