YEREVAN (RFE) — A Polish defense company is thoroughly modernizing dozens of Armenian battle tanks as part of growing military-technical cooperation between Armenia and NATO member Poland, military sources in Yerevan confirmed on Wednesday.
The Russian news agency Regnum was the first to report on the deal in May. Citing unnamed Armenian Defense Ministry officials, it said that the Russian-made T-72 tanks will have stronger dynamic armor and be equipped with more powerful engines, new machine guns, surveillance cameras and state-of-the-art communication systems. It said these upgrades will make them analogous to the more advanced T-90 tanks currently manufactured by Russia.
The Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of World Arms Trade (TsAMTO) gave more details of the reported modernization in a report released late last week. TsAMTO said that the Polish Defense Holding, Poland’s leading arms manufacturer, is due to upgrade 84 Armenian tanks by the end of 2015 in accordance with a $100 million contract signed with the Armenian Defense Ministry last year. According to it, 24 of those tanks are to be modernized in 2013.
Military sources in Yerevan essentially confirmed this information. They told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the Armenian military will receive the first batch of upgraded tanks before the end of the year.
The Defense Ministry refused to confirm or refute the reports. Its spokesman, Artsrun Hovannisian, said only that modernization of military hardware is a top priority for the Armenian army command.
The Regnum report in May came shortly before it emerged that Russia has started delivering $1 billion worth of offensive weapons, including 94 T-90 tanks, to Azerbaijan in line with commercial contracts signed in 2011.
The closely integrated armed forces of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are not known to have T-90s in their arsenal. The vast majority of several hundred tanks possessed by them are T-72 models originally manufactured in the Soviet Union in the early 1970s.
Armenian military experts regard the modernized Polish versions of T-72 as an efficient alternative to T-90s. “With less expenditure, we are making our tanks as potent as the ones which may be possessed by Azerbaijan,” said Vagharshak Harutiunian, a former defense minister.
Ever since the Soviet collapse Russia has been the number one source of weapons and ammunition supplied to Armenia, a fact reflecting their close military ties. They have enabled Yerevan to obtain Russian arms at knockdown prices or even free of charge.
In recent years, Armenia has also embarked on military-technical cooperation with several NATO member states and Poland in particular. The Armenian government announced in July plans to sign a relevant agreement with the Polish side. The two countries set up a defense joint venture in March.
“We are cooperating with many NATO states and that is natural. That strengthens our defense,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).