YEREVAN -- A senior Russian defense industry executive says Armenia wants to acquire Russian rocket artillery systems that have a firing range of up to 90 kilometers.
Nikolay Dimidyuk of the state-run Rosoboronexport company was quoted this week by the Moscow-based magazine "Voenno-Promyshlenny Kurier" as saying that Armenian officials showed an interest in the BM-30 Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems during a recent international arms exhibition in Minsk.
Dimidyuk said that Armenian authorities as well as military officials from Kazakhstan held "interesting negotiations" with Rosoboronexport representatives in the Belarusian capital. "These were not mere courtesy visits, we discussed concrete issues," he said.
"We have not cooperated so closely with members states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) before," Dimidyuk said.
The Armenian Defense Ministry declined to confirm or deny this information. "Armenia's armed forces are constantly supplied with new and modern weaponry," ministry spokesman Davit Karapetian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service. "It is not expedient to divulge details of our arms purchases."
A Defense Ministry source, who asked not to be identified, said in that context that the Armenian army already possesses Smerch systems.
Developed in the early 1980s, Smerch is arguably the most powerful multiple-launch rocket system in the world. It can fire 12 300-milimeter rockets in a single salvo that lasts for less than a minute.
The truck-mounted systems are estimated to cost $12 million each. It is not clear whether Armenia can acquire them at a lower price or even for free thanks to its membership in the CSTO or according to a Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed last August. The agreement commits Moscow to supplying the Armenian military with "special military hardware."
A possible purchase of Smerch rockets would highlight Armenia's intensifying arms race with Azerbaijan, whose armed forces reportedly have at least 12 such systems.
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said in February that the Armenian military received "unprecedented" quantities of modern weapons last year and will continue its military build-up in 2011. Ohanian gave no details of those deliveries.
Yerevan officially confirmed in late December that it possesses Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles, which are widely regarded as one of the most potent antiaircraft weapons.
Earlier in December, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his National Security Council approved a five-year plan to modernize the armed forces. It envisages, among other things, the acquisition of long-range, precision-guided weapons.