Defense is stronger than the attack: can Azerbaijan destroy the Armenian nuclear power plant

Defense is stronger than the attack: can Azerbaijan destroy the Armenian nuclear power plant

20 July, 11:09
It seems that we became the witnesses of the apparition of one important milestone - for the first time two nuclear-free states - Azerbaijan and Armenia - are ready to start a nuclear conflict.

At least they are ready for this in words, if we consider Baku's threats to destroy the Armenian nuclear power plant with missiles.

Victor Kuzovkov

It becomes even more disturbing when you carefully study the history and geography of the conflict. Yes, as many have already guessed, we are talking about Karabakh - the oldest armed confrontation in the post-Soviet territory. The hatreds accumulated over the decades since its inception are enough to fill, on the one hand, Lake Sevan, and on the other, the Mingechevir Reservoir. Which, incidentally, was the reason for the exchange of verbal escapades that horrified the whole world.

It all started with the fact that I remind you that the head of the press service of the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan, Colonel Vagif Dargyakhly, said that during the exacerbation that began on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the latter was plotting attacks on strategic Azerbaijani targets. Among these, the dam of the aforementioned Mingechevir reservoir was also named. In response, the colonel promised to strike at the Armenian nuclear power plant in the city of Metsamor. And here it is all and…. In general, we were stunned.

First of all, let's abstract from what was (and is) in the speaker’s head. It is enough that after his statement he was not deprived of his post, dismissed from the ranks of the Azerbaijani army, or otherwise strictly inflated. So, his words to one degree or another reflect the position of official Baku. Yes, it is very likely that this is a bluff, and it still gets very uncomfortable when someone bluffs like that.

In general, it must be said that the Minchegevir (in another version - the Minchegaur) reservoir is a long-standing headache for Azerbaijani politicians and military. Being the second largest reservoir of water in Transcaucasia (just after the Armenian Lake Sevan), it can cause a colossal man-made disaster. The town of Mingechevir is located directly under the reservoir, and further along the course of the Kura River are several cities in southern Azerbaijan. At peak filling, there are about 16 cubic kilometers of water in the reservoir. Is this a lot? It depends on what to compare. For example, the annual flow of the Volga is approximately 250 cubic kilometers per year. Here, if the dam is destroyed, this stream will descend from the mountains in hours, raising the water level by tens of meters in some mountainous regions. In the plains, near the mouth of the Kura, the rise can be several meters, but this, again, in a matter of hours, practically without the ability to evacuate the large civilian population of the plains. That is, in the worst case, we can confidently assume that the number of victims will go to tens of thousands.

Agree, this is a serious reason. The severity of the situation is given by the fact that major repairs of the dam have not been carried out since 1959, when the construction of the dam was completed. Leaks have been noted on it more than once, and relatively recently, in 2010, residents of the city of Minchegevir, located right under the dam, were even evacuated. The period of maintenance-free operation of the dam is already more than long, more than 60 years, so the situation is aggravated by the high seismic activity in the reservoir zone. Alas, the technologies of the fifties of the last century did not presuppose any special tricks to protect the dam, and now every earthquake adds confidence that the dam is, to put it mildly, in a very difficult position.

On the other hand, the situation at the Armenian NPP can be called relatively prosperous. The station is not new, its first power unit was commissioned back in 1976. But initially, the project included very high requirements for seismic safety - the station had to withstand earthquakes with an intensity of up to 9.5 points! And it should be noted that during the famous Spitak earthquake in 1988 she easily withstood shocks with a force of 6.25 on the Richter scale, fully retaining her working capacity.

In the context of our conversation, it is especially important that the reactor units of nuclear power plants of this type have very high, partly even excessive, strength. The designers and builders of the nuclear power plant seriously argue that a passenger Boeing can fall on the reactor block, and the reactor may not even be turned off. Hopefully, we will never know how reliable this statement is, but nevertheless we dare to assume that it is not at all easy to break through more than a meter of high-strength reinforced concrete.

That is, hitting a power unit with a half-ton high-explosive bomb, such as FAB-500, is unlikely to become a fatal event for the Armenian NPP. A warhead hit by an operational-tactical short-range missile system is also unlikely to lead to disaster. To guarantee serious damage to the station, it is necessary to use something more serious, such as concrete bombs weighing 1,500 kilograms or more. Is it possible? In principle, probably yes. But more about that below...

No, the author in no way wants to say that nuclear power plants can be bombed with impunity. Not at all, and even vice versa - the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant showed that the station could remain completely intact after an underground impact and tsunami, but an unfortunate set of circumstances could still bring the situation to catastrophe.

In this sense, it is very important that the Armenian NPP recently underwent a large-scale modernization, the main emphasis of which was placed on improving its safety level. Rosatom, as well as some other Russian and Ukrainian contractors, have carried out repairs and replacement of units and systems responsible for safety, for a total amount of about $ 170 million. Moreover, all these works were carried out already and taking into account the sad experience of Fukushima, that is, the duplication of security systems was increased, and their reliability was brought to the maximum possible.

In general, we can, of course, admit the idea that an Azerbaijani attack aircraft or bomber that accidentally breaks through to the nuclear power plant will disable it with one successful hit and cause a man-made radiation catastrophe comparable to Chernobyl or Fukushima. But the likelihood of this, frankly, is very small.

At the same time, one cannot but note the geographical factor. Distances in this region by our, Russian, standards, are very small. From the Mengechevir dam to the territory of Armenia, a little more than a hundred kilometers. From the border of Azerbaijan to the Armenian city of Metsamor, where the Armenian nuclear power plant is located, about 150 kilometers. This is less than ten minutes of flight time for a jet attack aircraft or bomber. And for an operational-tactical missile, it’s just a matter of minutes. Add to this a very complex mountainous terrain, which complicates the operation of air defense systems, and it becomes clear that it is still not worthwhile to completely exclude an unfavorable development of events.

Strictly speaking, the distances in the area of hostilities are such that a strike aircraft of any of the conflicting parties can reach the target along almost any route, making, for example, a large detour through the territory of Georgia, which is not very saturated with radar fields. This greatly complicates the situation for the air defense systems of both countries, making any, even the most unpleasant, scenario possible.

To better understand the prospects of both sides, it is necessary to look at what their armies and air forces have at their disposal. And here a certain advantage, primarily in aviation, is on the side of Azerbaijan. If Armenia has only a few relatively modern combat aircraft, in particular, four Su-30SM and about a dozen serviceable Su-25s, then Azerbaijan can fly more than ten MiG-29 fighters, about twenty Su-25 attack aircraft, a couple of front-line Su-25 bombers. -24, as well as dozens of Mi-24 attack helicopters of various modifications, including the Mi-24G, modernized with the participation of Ukrainian and South African firms.

In addition, in recent years, Azerbaijan has purchased a fairly large number of reconnaissance and strike UAVs of Israeli production, including Searcher, Hermes 450, and Hermes 900. In addition, joint production of unmanned systems, including Orbiter 2M and Aerostar, has been established. In total, the Azerbaijani army can be armed with up to a hundred relatively modern drones, of which two to three dozen can definitely perform strike functions.

Armenia also has a helicopter fleet, as well as nationally developed drones. But both quantitatively and qualitatively, it is somewhat inferior to what Azerbaijan has. And if it was only in the quantity and quality of aviation, Azerbaijan could be called the winner in advance. But there are also ground-based air defense systems...

Azerbaijan also seems to have a noticeable advantage in ground-based air defense systems. But the fact is that in both cases we can talk about their compliance with the intended challenges. For example, the Armenian S-300, in conjunction with the Buk-M2 medium-range complex and the Tor-M2KM air defense missile system, are quite capable of covering the Armenian NPP from Azerbaijan's strike aircraft. Yes, due to the complex mountainous terrain, all sorts of difficulties are possible, but they would have been with a much larger number of air defense systems of all types.

Azerbaijan can boast of an even larger arsenal - there are long-range Russian S-300PMU2 "Favorite", and Israeli air defense systems "Spyders", and Israeli air defense systems "Barak-8", and again Russian mobile air defense systems "Tor-M2E", and several more systems. Soviet development, for the most part, taken out of service with us, but still capable, with proper management, to shoot down more than one air target. And these are not unfounded allegations - for example, during the conflict, the Armenians for the first time shot down an Azerbaijani (in fact, of course, Israeli) Hermes 900 drone with a missile launched from the Osa-AK complex, which was put into service back in 1975. That is, the old systems of the sixties and seventies are still able not only to shoot, but also to hit modern air targets.

In general, we can rightfully talk about the superiority of defense over attack. The situation does not change, and the presence of operational-tactical ballistic missiles on the opposing sides is, of course, a threat, but it is quite feasible for the air defense systems available on both sides.

Well, some quantitative and qualitative superiority of the Azerbaijani side is compensated by the participation of Armenia in the CSTO and the presence of Russian troops on its territory. They also have S-300 complexes, modern fighters and a collective security treaty obliging Russia to provide military assistance to Armenia in the event of an attack on it by external enemies.

That is, despite all the rhetorical exercises, we can state the presence of a certain military impasse. In this situation, striking at the aforementioned pain points on both sides is too risky - most likely it will not be possible to achieve a military effect, and the politically attacking side will instantly turn into an outcast, who would be bombed with pleasure by the very “world community”, to whose aid in case of exacerbation Both sides hope so.

This means that with a high degree of probability we can take a breath - most likely, there will be no nuclear contamination of Transcaucasia. At the same time, the voiced threat may be a prologue to the aggravation of the Karabakh conflict, where the stakes for both sides are extremely high. Mutual intimidation in the case of Azerbaijan clearly acquires the features of a warning - thus, Baku can warn Yerevan against interfering in "its internal affairs", namely, from the return of Karabakh under the Azerbaijani flag and another massacre of Armenians.

And if the aforementioned international community reacts too sluggishly to the words of the Azerbaijani colonel, the conflict in Karabakh may erupt with renewed vigor. Moreover, Baku, most likely, already has enough forces to suppress the unrecognized republic...

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