Towards two states but one smart power
TurAz Eagle exercise marks the hard power pillar of the Turkish Azerbaijani bilateral ties
*Can Kasapoglu is the director of the Security and Defense Studies Program at the Istanbul-based independent think-tank EDAM.
Turkey and Azerbaijan -have completed the planned TurAz Eagle (TurAz Kartalı) drills. From a political-military standpoint, the exercise is of utmost significance as it marks the hard power pillar of the ‘two states, but one nation’ paradigm, while offering insights about the dynamics of the Turkish – Azerbaijani alliance. Baku’s defense economics uptrend and procurement acumen mix up very well with Ankara’s growing defense technological industrial base and NATO-standard military capacity.
Essential exercise for regional military strategic balance in South Caucasus
The planned TurAz Eagle and TurAz Falcon joint exercises of Turkey and Azerbaijan feature some notable sightings. For one, these drills offer an invaluable opportunity to global strategic community for observing weaponry produced by very different design philosophies, such as the Azerbaijani Air Force’s Mig-29 fighter aircraft, Su-25 attack aircraft and Mi-8 helicopters, along with the Turkish Armed Forces’ F-16 fighters, CH-47F heavy-lift helicopters, as well as AH-1 W Super Cobra and T-129 ATAK gunships. Secondly, the TurAz series, and the Turkish – Azerbaijani joint exercises in general, have given a true boost to both sides’ combat readiness, mimicking real warfighting conditions. In fact, in a previous interview, Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister General Zakher Hasanov highlighted the critical importance of joint exercises with Turkey for promoting the Azerbaijani Armed Forces to NATO standards. Notably, Defense Minister Hasanov credited the bilateral military cooperation as one of the underlying reasons behind the Azerbaijani campaign’s success during the April 2016 clashes.
Open-source evidence suggests that the TurAz exercises incorporate complex concepts of operations (CONOPS). Electronic warfare, suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), close air support (CAS), combat search & rescue, and air-ground interdiction remain key missions in this respect. Besides, apart from the TurAz drills focusing on air warfare, Turkey and Azerbaijan conduct regular land warfare drills with a specific focus in combined arms operations. Lessons learned from these endeavors envisaged Azerbaijan’s effective military planning for its robust blitz back in 2016.
More importantly, through these efforts, the two armed forces develop harmonious command & control and operational planning capacity in addition to strategic cultural exchange. Developing joint operations capabilities and a common military strategic culture loom large as key necessities, since the present treaties between Ankara and Baku showcase certain articles that refer to a casus foederis, the cornerstone of military alliances regulating under which circumstances allied armed response would be initiated.
Exploring geopolitical horizons
The Turkish – Azerbaijani military alliance and defense cooperation come with a huge potential. Azerbaijan has a growing defense economics and a steady procurement budget. Unlike many other states gifted with hydrocarbon resources, Baku opts for investing in combat-proven, reliable weapon systems, rather than expensive toys to be paraded only on national days. The acquisition of multiple-launch rocket systems from Turkey (notably the 122mm and 300mm class), loitering munitions with anti-radiation capabilities (the Harop UAV), and thermobaric heavy rockets from Russia (TOS-1A) and from Israel showcase the acumen behind Baku’s planning.
Ankara brings a large, decisive, and NATO-standard modern warfighting deterrent to the bilateral military alliance with Baku. Turkey has a growing arms exports portfolio supported by a burgeoning defense sector with around 70% self-sufficiency in various conventional arms across the spectrum. Azerbaijan’s recent acquisition of Turkey’s air-launched cruise missile SOM highlights the fruitful synergy between Ankara’s defense technology industrial base and Baku’s aspirant military spending. The Turkish administration has prioritized unmanned systems in recent years. Especially, combat performances of tactical and MALE (medium-altitude / long endurance) UAVs during Operation Olive Branch deserve attention in this respect, and the next-generation Turkish UAVs with heavier payloads and more advanced systems (such as Akinci [the Raider]) can find a lucrative place in Azerbaijan’s weapons market. Finally, the ‘special relationship’ between the Turkish Third Field Army and elite Azerbaijani formations in Nakhcivan is crucial for the regional military balance in the South Caucasus.
Two states, one smart power
Turkey and Azerbaijan share a mutual national identity, speak the same language, and enjoy very strong ties not only between their governments, but also, and more significantly so, their societies. Although this sets a good basis for building a partnership, soft power elements alone cannot suffice in maintaining the strategic momentum. Thus, registering joint defense capabilities are essential to foster the ‘iki devlet bir millet’ (two states, but one nation) understanding, enabling soft power potential to be be translated into smart power. This is where the military alliance between Baku and Ankara comes into play, as it constitutes the hard power pillar of the bilateral ties.
*Can Kasapoglu is the director of the Security and Defense Studies Program at the Istanbul-based independent think-tank EDAM.**Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.