Azerbaijan's "Favorit": In Search of the Caspian Country's SA-20s

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S-300 positions in Surakhani

On June 26, 2011, for the first time, Azerbaijan demonstrated its S-300PMU2 Favorit SAM systems in a military parade held in the capital Baku. During the military parade, three 5P85TE2 TELs (Transporter Erector Launcher), two 5T58 missile transporters, and one 30N6E2 Illumination guidance radar were demonstrated.

According to the Russian Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade (CAWAT), Azerbaijan has purchased two divisions of S-300PMU2 Favorit SAM systems from Russia, with each division consisting of eight TELs. The contract which is estimated at about $300 million was signed in 2007, and deliverance of the systems started in 2011. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute confirms CAWAT’s data with the minor difference of the contract being signed in 2010, not 2007.

The location of the Azerbaijan’s S-300 SAM system has remained unknown for a while, but it was supposed to have been deployed near the capital Baku to protect the country’s oil and military infrastructure, along with the city itself. The possibility that the newly acquired SAM systems could replace Soviet S-200 air defence systems and therefore be deployed not only to Baku, but also Mingechaur, was also considered a possibility.

A year after the parade, a S-300 SAM division was spotted on 2012 satellite imagery, 45 km north-west of Baku, close to Sumgait, at previously abandoned positions of S-75 SAM systems. The division consisted of two batteries with four TELs in each. It is worth noting that the area is full of military installations, including the Nasosnaya and Sital Chay military air bases, along with the Gilyazi (strategic) and Nasosnaya (regional) munitions depots.

However, these positions appeared to be empty again on satellite imagery from  2014. Though engineering structures still exist,  there are no visible TELs, radars, or diesel generators in the images taken from 2014 and onwards.

Sometime around April 2013, engineering works started in the SAM system brigade in the Surakhani district, east of Baku, where obsolete S-75 launchers and other machinery were previously located. A separate place was allocated for a S-300PMU2 battery. In the second half of 2014, two batteries—each having four TELs—are visible on the territory of the brigade. However, their positions were temporary and not properly equipped. After June 2015, one of those two batteries was moved elsewhere.

Imagery from Surakhani

The same satellite image taken in 2014 shows reconstruction  on the territory of the brigade.The reconstruction was mainly completed some time in 2015. Currently, there is a full-equipped military position for one S-300PMU2 battery with four TELs located in it.

Simultaneously in 2014 on the hill next to a village called Hokmeli (to the west of Baku), construction of new SAM system positions began. By the end of May 2015, one S-300PMU2 battery was visible in available satellite imagery. It is possible that the second battery “lost” from Surakhani after June 2015 was deployed to Hokmeli.

Imagery from Hokmeli

Since at least 2011, Azerbaijan has also started large-scale construction in another SAM system brigade located in the Qaradağ district of Baku. Barracks, military garages, and a large parade ground have been already built, while additional construction is still ongoing. The brigade was equipped with S-75 and S-125 air defence systems, which have been removed as of the time of this article’s publication. No other air defence system is currently visible. We cannot exclude the possibility of the deployment of S-300PMU2 batteries after the construction is completed however, taking into consideration the fact that the Azerbaijani Navy main base is located next to the location, there is also the possibility that the territory of the air defence brigade has been attached to the Navy base, while the air defence brigade has been relocated elsewhere.

Imagery from Qaradağ district of Baku

The exact number of S-300MPU2s in Azerbaijan is a matter of another study.

As previously mentioned, international arms trade research organizations such as CAWAT (Russia) and SIPRI (Sweden) reported about the S-300PMU2 two divisions with sixteen TELs that Azerbaijan purchased from Russia. However, looking at available satellite imagery, we were able to find no more than eight TELs divided into two batteries at any given time.

As we have seen above, in the beginning Azerbaijan deployed two batteries  45 kilometers northwest of Baku, then the batteries were relocated. After that, two batteries were deployed to Surakhani and then one of the batteries disappeared from Surakhani. A battery re-appeared in Hokmeli some time later.

Thus, it is possible that Azerbaijan has actually purchased not two divisions (2x2x4), but two batteries (2×4), despite reports from the CAWAT and SIPRI.