Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 108

The armed forces of Uzbekistan are Central Asia’s strongest, but only in relative terms, and mainly due to the quantitative strength inherited from the Soviet Union. President Islam Karimov recently revealed that he considers his army obsolete and unable to cope with the new challenges to national security. In an address to the Supreme Assembly [parliament] of Uzbekistan and a Russian press interview, Karimov outlined a comprehensive plan for military reform, hand in hand with limited military cooperation with Russia. According to Karimov, the reform plan has been in the works for the last two years and is now reaching the stage of accelerated implementation in response to the challenges of terrorism and Islamic radicalism.

In these statements, Karimov came close to deriding the structure and doctrine of the Uzbek army as inspired by the Soviet model and harking back to the Red Army’s experience during World War II. The reform plan approved by him envisages deep personnel cuts and the creation of small, mobile units with intensive training and massive firepower, capable of operating autonomously. Basic units in the reformed army will be platoons and battalions, each battalion with its own light artillery. The first five new-model battalions will each be located in one of the five military districts which the plan proposes to create on the territory of Uzbekistan. Training will emphasize mountain warfare, in anticipation of “terrorist” or “religious extremist” incursions from outside into mountainous areas of Uzbekistan’s Surkhandaria, Ferghana, Andizhan or Namangani regions. Some of the new units will be patterned on the U.S. Army’s Ranger units.

While emphasizing Uzbekistan’s self-reliance in terms of manpower, training and doctrine, Karimov expects Russian technical assistance. In these statements, Karimov cited understandings he has reached with Vladimir Putin in December 1999 and May 2000, when Putin visited Tashkent in his successive capacities as prime minister and president of Russia. Those understandings envisage Russia modernizing Uzbekistan’s air defense missiles and tactical battlefield missiles, as well as replenishing their ammunition stocks, overhauling Uzbekistan’s helicopters and supplying them with spare parts, delivering up-to-date radio communications systems–including satellite communications–to the Uzbek military, and setting up joint ventures in Uzbekistan to produce military equipment. According to Karimov, his country is prepared to pay cash for Russian supplies, “lest certain Russian generals burst from the strain” (Uzbek Television, Tashkent Radio, May 25; Kommersant daily, Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 26).

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