By Sara Rajabova
June 26 marks the 96th anniversary of the establishment of the region's leading army - Azerbaijan's Armed Forces.
Azerbaijani Army, which today is considered the most modern army in the Caucasus, is consisted of Air Force and Air Defense Forces, the Navy, and the Land forces.
Today, Azerbaijani Army is one of the most powerful, highly disciplined armies in the world and the leading in the region, which is equipped with modern military machinery.
The skills and combat readiness of the Azerbaijani army are growing year by year. The army building process in Azerbaijan is progressing as well.
The army building process is especially important for Azerbaijan, as twenty percent of the country's territory is under Armenian occupation and the country is in a state of war with Armenia.
Every male in the country who reached the age of 18, also the ones who graduated the university, have to serve in the Azerbaijani Army.
Azerbaijan has increased its military expenses in parallel with increase of the economical power of the country to have the strong Armed Forces. The Azerbaijani Armed Forces with annual military budget of nearly $4 billion, equipped with state-of-the-art military weaponry and ammunitions, trained under NATO standards is a leader in the South Caucasus for its military power.
The armed forces are modernized, reconstructed, equipped with newest and strong weaponry as revenue of Azerbaijan increases.
Azerbaijan had to increase rapidly and constantly military expenses due to the necessity of renewing the soviet manufactured, old military equipment being at use of armed forces, to supply it with modern weaponry manufactured based on the advanced technologies, as well as to improve the welfare of personnel of the Armed Forces and to apply new methods in military training.
While increasing military expenses, Azerbaijan also purchased new weapons and ammunitions from countries of close cooperation in military- technical field.
Currently, Russia ranks first for total volume of military-technical cooperation with Azerbaijan, and is followed by Turkey, Israel and the South African Republic.
Recently, Azerbaijan has received T-90 tanks, heavy flamethrower systems, Msta self-propelled artilleries, Mi-35M attack helicopters, BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, BTR-82 armored personnel carriers from Russia.
Azerbaijan has purchased tens of fourth generation modernized MiQ-29 "Fulcrum" combat planes from Ukraine and Belarus to strengthen its Air Forces. At the same time the close cooperation is made with Israel having the very developed industry of the world for purchase and joint manufacture of pilotless planes, which are considered the combat technique of new generation. Within this cooperation pilotless reconnoiter planes of Israel manufacture like "Orbiter", "Aerostar", "Seacher", "Hermes-450", "Heron" have been purchased. Azerbaijan has ultimately turned into the country possessing the strongest Air Forces in the region. Also joint venture for manufacture of pilotless planes like "Orbiter" and "Aerostar" had been established in Baku.
Azerbaijan established its national military industry in order to avoid dependence on equipping of army from foreign countries. Hundreds of items of military purposes are manufactured at the enterprises of the Ministry of Defense Industry, established since 2005.
The defense products output in Azerbaijan surged by more than eight-fold during 2005-2013. The country's defense industry ministry has started mass production of a variety of munitions in recent years.
The ministry produced some 121.2 million manats worth of defense-purpose products and delivered them to customers in 2013.
At the same time Azerbaijan is the first state of the region manufacturing own armored defense technology. The Ministry of Defense Industry supples the Defense Ministry with armored vehicles of "Matador" and "Marauder" manufacturing it jointly with foreign partners.
Over the past few years Azerbaijan has also succeeded to modernize and strengthen the Caspian fleet inherited from the Soviet time. At present the Azerbaijani Navy is considered as the second, after Russia, strongest fleet in the Caspian Sea for its capabilities.
Azerbaijan pays special attention to professional training of the personnel adapted to NATO standards. For this purposes, Azerbaijani servicemen often participate at international military exercises.
The Azerbaijani Armed Forces collaborate with NATO under the Partnership for the Peace Program from the 1994 and have military cooperation with a number of foreign states.
Every year within the Individual Partnership Program between NATO and Azerbaijan over 1,000 officers of the National Army take part in various educational and training events.
Azerbaijan Armed Forces support some peace keeping operations under the NATO and the UN. Since September of 1994 Peace keeping divisions of the Azerbaijan Armed Forces have been serving in the structure of international peace keeping forces in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Azerbaijani peace keeping contingent consisting of 34 soldiers had successfully served in Kosovo during 1999-2008 in structure of the Turkish Peace Keeping Forces of KFOR.
Azerbaijani peacekeeping contingent consisted of 150 soldiers and officers have served in Iraq on the basis of decision accepted in the 2003 by the UN Security Council.
Presently, Azerbaijan supports the international peace keeping operations in Afghanistan. Currently, some 90 Azerbaijani servicemen are serving in the structure of international forces securing safety in Afghanistan (The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)).
Azerbaijan is also among the eight partner countries that have confirmed their presence in Afghanistan after 2014. Peacekeepers of the country will stay in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country by the end of 2014. However, Azerbaijan will reduce its presence in Afghanistan after 2014.
Azerbaijan has strengthened its positions with forming the strongest armed forces in the South Caucasus region. Having strong armed forces is the important factor for restoration of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and its sovereignty by peaceful means, for settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the basis of principles of the international law.
The history of the modern Azerbaijani army dates back to the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in the early 20th century. The Armed Forces of the Azerbaijan Republic were created on June 26, 1918 to protect the country from the military aggressions of Armenia and Russia.
Day of the Armed Forces is annually celebrated on June 26 in Azerbaijan, in accordance with a relevant decree issued by the former President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev.
With the strengthening of the armed forces, the military power of the country is increasing, and Azerbaijan is ready to counter any threats posed by the foes.