YEREVAN—Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan announced on Tuesday that the Air Force was expecting a second delivery of the state-of-the-art Russian-manufactured Sukhoi-30SM fighter jet.
Russia delivered the first batch of four Sukhois to great fanfare last December in accordance with the terms of the agreement signed less than a year prior whose total cost remains classified. All things considered, Armenia is expected to receive 12 of the 4+ Generation multirole fighters—enough to equip a full squadron—along with the necessary spare parts and sophisticated munitions to match.
The Sukhois will serve as the backbone for Armenia’s first-ever operational fighter squadron. The Armenian Air Force’s inventory has thus far mostly consisted of 15 aging ground-attack aircraft and a medley of helicopters in attack and utility configurations. Armenia has historically favored the development of an extensive ground-based air defense network, while air cover was provided by Russian Air Force MiG-29s stationed at the Erebuni Air Force Base.
Minister Tonoyan’s announcement coincided with the 28th anniversary of the formation of the Armenian Armed Forces. The Armenian military was formally re-established on January 28, 1992—a little over four months after Armenia regained its independence from the dying Soviet Union. This new organizational structure, built around the leadership of Armenia’s first Minister of Defense Vazgen Sargsyan, integrated the collection of militias (known in Armenian as Fedayeen) fighting the then-ongoing Karabakh War, along with the remains of soviet regiments stationed in Armenia into a “small, well-balanced, combat-ready defense force.”
Today, 52 thousand men and women serve with the Armenian Armed Forces in four branches: the Army, Air Force, Air Defense Force and Border Guards, with 20 thousand more in the Artsakh Defense Force. Armenia maintains a primarily conscript-based army, but efforts are underway to professionalize the force. Though Armenia is an integral member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) along with fellow former Soviet states Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, it has developed a close working relationship with NATO through the Partnership for Peace program.
Since emerging victorious in the 1988-1994 Karabakh War, the military remains deployed along the Line-of-Contact (LOC) on the Armenian and Artsakh frontiers where it has been in numerous, sometimes deadly, skirmishes with opposing Azeri forces. The most recent confrontation, today known as the Four Day War, saw the bloodiest flareup on the LOC since the ceasefire, with Armenia suffering 91 fatalities. In the meantime, Armenia has contributed personnel to several UN, NATO and CSTO-backed peacekeeping operations across the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali. Currently, there are 121 Armenian personnel deployed in Afghanistan as part of Operation Resolute Support, 41 as part of NATO’s KFOR mission to Kosovo, 33 in southern Lebanon and 50 in Syria.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan marked the occasion by heading a government procession, which included President Armen Sarkisian and National Assembly President Ararat Mirzoyan, to the Armenian Military Cemetery of Yerablur on the outskirts of Yerevan where Catholicos Karekin II led prayers. The Prime Minister, this time accompanied by Defense Minister Tonoyan, also traveled to attend ceremonies in the community of Geghamasar and the town of Vartenis, both in the province of Gegharkunik. A concert by the Armenian Army Marching Band was given that same evening in Yerevan.
Pashinyan also congratulated the Armed Forces on Facebook, adding that new government legislation would make it possible for retiring officers to receive mortgages at subsidized rates. Additionally, over eight billion drams ($17 million) have been allocated from the most recent state budget to cover housing needs for retiring career officers, a point which had been a sore issue between the military and the previous government. “The MOD reports that so far three apartment buildings are already open to welcoming veterans and their families in Goris, Sisian and Vayk – containing 20 units, 28 units and 44 units respectively,” read his post ending with, “Congratulations Armenia’s victorious and glorious Army.”
The anniversary was also marked in Artsakh’s capital of Stepanakert, where the Armenian Armed Forces maintain a large presence. Artsakh president Bako Sahakyan joined the Primate of the Artsakh Diocese Archbishop Pargev Martirosyan and other dignitaries in a wreath-laying ceremony at the city’s war memorial.
One minor controversy surrounding the anniversary came with the release of a proposed redesign for the Armed Forces badge by the Ministry of Defense (MOD). The new coat of arms supplants the current logo’s Eagle rousant with a new design including golden griffon sejant and crossed swords over a stylized Croix pattée. Defense Minister Tonoyan was photographed on January 24 wearing military fatigues featuring the new emblem, suggesting that its adoption was official.
The change provoked the ire of many Armenian graphic designers who lambasted the overall kitschy design and departure from heraldic convention while pointing out several blatant errors.
Evoking the memory of design legend Massimo Vignelli, noted visual artist and calligrapher Ruben Malayan accused the new emblem’s designer of doing the opposite of struggling against ugliness. “How does a nation with a history going back millennia allow itself to do such a thing?” he wrote on Facebook, calling on officials to reject the design. Among the most glaring mistakes were the off-center swords.
The MOD seems to have removed the photo from its official Facebook page, while the current emblem remains in place suggesting that the change may not yet be final.