The War, The Drones and The Money

We’ve been dealing with Turkish invasions, marauding, murder, war-making, cruelty, destructiveness and overall inhumanity for more than a millennium. Azerbaijan’s behavior, guided and supported by Turkey, while heartbreaking and infuriating, is nothing new for us. They fit the pattern well.

The fact that Baku is using suicide drones simply to sow terror and wreak destruction fits the pattern. The fact that they are using religion-crazed mercenaries to give their murderous intent Islamic overtones fits the pattern. The fact that they are sending these same mercenaries in greater proportion to the front as cannon-fodder, just as they did during the 1990s war with their minorities – Tats, Talysh and various mountain peoples – fits the pattern. The fact that they are shelling civilian, non-military areas fits the pattern. The fact that they are using white phosphorus to incinerate forests, causing immense damage in these times of climate change, just to burn out any refugees, or even military hiding there fits the pattern. The fact that they are leaving behind the corpses of their dead to rot by the hundreds if not thousands, fits the pattern.

But, after all this, it struck me that we have no real sense of how much this is costing Aliyev’s kleptocracy in terms of dollar, not human, terms. Knowing, or at least guesstimating, what this cost is could give us a sense of how long the murderous, destructive attacks against our homeland can go on. So, I started to do some on-line snooping around, inspired by the fact that the Armenian Unified InfoCenter gives almost daily, tabular reports of Azerbaijan’s cumulative losses.

I have taken a very cautious, conservative approach in the numbers I use, so we end up with a worst case scenario as you will see. Built in to my approach is that the list of losses can’t possibly include everything, since it represents only certain categories of equipment. I am not addressing casualties and the costs they impose, either.

Please refer to Table 1 as we go through some arithmetic. Let’s start with airborne equipment then move to the ground.

For drones, prices ranged from $50,000 to the highest end at $405,000,000. Specifically, for the Harops (suicide drones), I found a sale by Israel to India of $100,000,000 for ten of them, i.e. $10 million each. The Turkish made Bayraktar, which our forces have downed, comes in at $5 million. With my cautious approach, I am guessing that many of the drones they’re using are on the lower cost end, so I settled on an average cost of $3 million each. For helicopters, I found prices in the $9-35 million range and settled on using $15 million. For airplanes, the range was $20-58 million, so I went with $35 million. Here, I’m assuming that none of the planes we’ve downed are at the really high end of the latest MIGs or F-16s and the like.

The data provided a list of armored vehicles. I broke it down into two parts, tanks and other, once again guessing, that a quarter were tanks. For tanks, a lot of the prices seemed to be in the $8-10 million range, so I went with eight. For other armored vehicles, which had a really broad range of prices, I went with one million each. Finally, for the TOS systems (these are multiple rocket launchers that are set up with either 24 or 30 tubes to fire as many rockets back-to-back) prices ranged between four and six million, so I chose five.

This is how I came up with the $3.713 figure in Table 1. But what does this mean? To place it in context, what we have to know is how much military gear Azerbaijan has. Enter Table 2. This shows how much Baku spent on its military budget each year from 1992 to 2018. The total is $28.63 billion. To include 2019 and 2020, considering the growth of the last three years and that now there is a hot war on which means more spending, I rounded that up to $35 billion.

 

But, that can’t all have been spent on material since soldiers have to be fed, clothed and housed. I found some numbers for the US which showed this part of military spending to be about one-quarter of the budget. While I’m certain Azerbaijan doesn’t treat its soldiers as well as Washington, the latter has other costs that the former doesn’t, meaning the proportions shift back. Let’s stick with 25 percent. Also, over three decades, some equipment had to have been disposed, plus bombs and bullets get used up, so let’s say that’s another five percent. So we’ll reduce that $35 billion by 30-percent. This leaves Azerbaijan with $24.5 billion in military gear.

So if $3.713 billion has already been destroyed in one month, meaning roughly 15-percent, that gives Baku another six months’ worth of equipment to lose, based strictly on dollar-terms. Of course Turkey could resupply Azerbaijan, but how much and how fast could they move through Georgia, by air or land, before that becomes an issue? Of course extraordinary purchases could be made from Aliyev’s suppliers. Conversely, remember that the set of guesses I made exclude many smaller costs. Then factor in the reality that winter is coming, which usually slows down military operations.

We are left with two realizations if these numbers are anywhere near correct. This war could drag on until about the end of summer 2021. The urgency with which Azerbaijan is pursuing this latest round of aggression is a result of the fact that there is a limit on how long they can last.

Finally, what can we do in the Diaspora? It’s simple. Support Stepanakert and Yerevan with our fundraising and in some cases supplying such simple items as the right kind of cloth for uniforms.

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Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
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