Baku has initiated large-scale weapons readiness efforts in Nakhchivan. The official YouTube channel of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense features a video showing Turkish-manufactured multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) stationed in the strategic western exclave (YouTube, May 2). Of these arms, the 300-millimeter TRG-300 Kaplan (Tiger) deserves special attention, particularly in light of the delicate regional military balance between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Produced by Roketsan, the TRG-300 Tiger is the latest variant of Turkey’s 300-millimeter-class MLRS. It fires a fairly accurate rocket with a circular error probable (CEP) of less than ten meters thanks to its global positioning (GPS)- and inertial navigation system (INS)-supported guidance features. With a 105-kilogram warhead configuration, the Tiger has up to 120 kilometers of range and effective radius of some 70 meters; while the heavier, 190-kilogram warhead option (Block-2) has a range of 90 kilometers and around 80 meters of effective radius, prioritizing overwhelming firepower. Both warhead configurations enable high-explosive and steel ball variations (Roketsan.com.tr, May 12).
The TRG-300 Tiger is designed to annihilate a broad array of critical target types, including troop concentrations, high-importance facilities, command-and-control (C2) and radar sites, as well as artillery and air-defense systems (Roketsan.com.tr, May 12). During the February 2020 escalation with the Syrian Arab Army in Idlib, the Turkish military deployed the Tiger MLRS to the front lines (Aksam, February 21).
Azerbaijani-Armenian clashes mostly revolve around Karabakh; yet, geo-strategically, heavy deployments in Nakhchivan offer Azerbaijani defense planners some valuable opportunities for outflanking their regional rival. Notably, in December 2013, President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree establishing the Special Combined Arms Army (Əlahiddə Ümumqoşun Ordusu—SCAA) in the strategic western exclave (Mod.gov.az, 2014). Moreover, the new combat formation has close ties with Turkey’s formidable 3rd Field Army (3. Ordu), overlooking the Caucasus frontier.
Militarily, Nakhchivan enables a second offensive route in addition to the Line of Contact around Karabakh, which has the potential to overstretch the Armenian forces in a multi-front war (see EDM, August 3, 2017, June 4, 2018, June 12, 2018, July 11, 2019; Bellingcat.com, October 4, 2017). Such an assault could unfold in one of two ways. Azerbaijan’s SCAA can opt to launch an offensive directed at Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, in an effort to distract the Armenian formations. Or it might cut into the critical lines of communications between Armenia and the Armenian forces in Karabakh. Until 2016, such scenarios were deemed rather improbable. However, following the serious April 2016 clashes, known as the Four Day War (see EDM, April 6, 2016 and May 5, 2016), the Azerbaijani forces proved that their newly gained capabilities could deliver a much more effective assault compared to their unsatisfactory showing during the 1990s (Chathamhouse.org, July 2016).
In tandem with the abovementioned scenarios, the heavy firepower delivered by Turkey’s combat-proven MLRS promises to be a gamechanger when it comes to Azerbaijani-Armenian correlation of forces along the Nakhchivan front. Available Azerbaijani military writings attach utmost importance to deep-strike capabilities offered by rocket-artillery systems (T. Mikayılov et.al., “Müasir Əməliyyatlarda Atəşlə Zərərvurmanin Xüsusiyyətləri,” Vol. 2, No. 1, 2016). Modern MLRS doctrines, unlike the unguided “rain of steel” Soviet tactics of the bygone Cold War era, stress combining destructive high-precision firepower with rapid mobility. That is, today’s mobile rocket launchers are designed to shoot, move to a new firing position, and keep shooting. Turkey’s 122-millimeter and 300-millimeter MLRSs also depend on this design philosophy. Furthermore, Turkey’s 300-millimeter-class MLRS baseline represents perhaps the longest-range and heaviest warhead combination among the Western arsenals of the same type (Roketsan.com, May 14, 2020; The National Interest, September 17, 2019). From their combat deployment positions, Azerbaijan’s Turkish-manufactured heavy rockets can be used either for attacking the outskirts of the Armenian capital or, in a more calculated concept of operations, to hit Armenia’s strategic highway along the north-south axis, disrupting its logistics routes (see EDM, August 3, 2017).
Meanwhile, the bilateral defense ties between Ankara and Baku have scaled-up to a new level over the past decade, becoming a genuine military alliance, thanks to the 2010 Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Support (ASPMS). Referring to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, the ASPMS’s Article 2 elucidates a casus foederis, obligating the parties to cooperate against any aggression faced by either country, to the extent each deems necessary. Furthermore, the agreement’s Article 7 underlines that the two states shall coordinate their C2 and force structures, including during peacetime (Resmigazete.gov.tr, May 2011). Since then, joint exercises between the two militaries have been shaped accordingly.
Starting in 2019, two major joint exercises with pronounced land warfare components—“Mustafa Kemal Ataturk” and “Sarsilmaz Kardeslik” (“Steadfast Brotherhood”)—showcased mechanized breakthrough offensives, overwhelming land-based fire support, and accompanying army aviation (Yeni Safak, May 3, 2019; YouTube, June 11, 2019). When looked at in total, these drills conspicuously resembled the Azerbaijani order of battle during the April 2016 Four Day War.
Overall, Turkey and Azerbaijan have managed to further the notion of “two states, one nation” beyond only rhetoric. And the deployment of 300-millimeter TRG-300 Tiger heavy MLRS units to Nakhchivan looms large as yet another manifestation of their military alliance, which had already visibly paid off for Baku in the spring 2016 clashes.