Analysis: Force Development and the Armed Forces of Georgia under Saakashvili


The formation of the Armed Forces of independent Georgia began in the last days of the Soviet Union, with the creation of the National Guard on December 20, 1990.[1] The first draft to the National Guard was announced on April 30, 1991, a date now celebrated as marking the birth of the Georgian Armed Forces. The National Guard began operations in the early 1990s as a volunteer formation, most of whose members had no special military training, including officers and Tengiz Kitovani, its commander.[2] As with other such formations, it suffered from insufficient training and a low level of discipline.

The National Guard was eventually integrated into the Ministry of Defense, established in 1992.[3] The lack of a unified military organization capable of concentrating forces and means, the pernicious influence of “atamans”(warlords), and the rebellion of the supporters of the deposed Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first president, were the main factors leading to Georgia’s defeat in the war with Abkhazia in 1992-1993.

Following defeat in Abkhazia and the conclusion of civil war, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze renewed military reform. In particular, he disbanded volunteer military formations like Mkhedrioni. Nonetheless, other negative factors continued to plague the Army; first of all, a very low level of financing. Even in 2002, Georgia’s defense budget was a mere 36 million lari ($16.4 million),[4] and in 2003, 60.9 million lari ($28.4 million).[5] High corruption and low discipline also deserve mention.

The last years of Shevardnadze’s rule saw greater military assistance from foreign governments. From April 2002 to April 2004 the United States implemented the Georgia Train & Equip Program (GTEP) worth $64 million. This involved the training of three light infantry battalions of the 11th Brigade (now the 1st Infantry Brigade, Gori), the 16th Mountain Battalion of the National Guard (from which the Mountaineering School in Sachkhere was formed) and a Combined Mechanized Batallion.[6] A total of 2,702 servicemen were trained under the GTEP.[7] In spite of the fact that the program concluded on April 24, 2004, that is, under Saakashvili, it owes its success to Shevardnadze and his military circle. Foreign assistance also included the training of Georgian commanders at foreign military academies, first of all in Germany, the United States , the Turkey, and Ukraine. Several current leaders of the Georgian Armed Forces underwent such training under Shevardnadze.[8]

Foreign states also provided with military equipment and supplies. The transfer of 10 Bell UH-1H helicopters (including four for parts) from the United States, another two such helicopters from Turkey, 12 L-29 trainers, two Mi-14 helicopters, Tbilisi Project 206MR (Matka class) fast attack craft (missile) and six patrol boats from Ukraine should be noted.

On the whole, the last years of Shevardnadze’s rule were a period of qualitative growth for the Georgian army, even if it was on a smaller scale than would take place later under Saakashvili.[9]

Contradictions in the Goals, Tasks, and Priorities for the Development of the Georgian Army

After Mikhail Saakashvili came to power in late 2003, a range of defence conceptual documents and programs was adopted through 2005-2007, reflecting the aims, tasks, and priorities for the development of the armed forces of . Of these, it is worth mentioning the National Security Concept (NSC),[10] the Threat Assessment Document (TAD),[11] the National Military Strategy (NMS),[12] the Strategic Defense Review (SDR),[13] and the Defense Minister`s Vision.[14]

The first to be adopted was the NSC, which expresses a global vision and touches upon not only military, but also financial, political, economic, environmental, and cultural issues. It declares the main interests of to be: (a) securing ‘s territorial integrity; (b) securing regional stability in the Caucasus and the Black Sea basin; and (c) securing ‘s role as a transit state.

The main threats to Georgia’s national security are identified as follows: (a) violation of territorial integrity, understood to mean the separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; (b) the spread of conflict from neighboring states, from the Russian North Caucasus in particular; (c) military aggression on the part of foreign states (considered by the authors to be unlikely) or nonstate actors (more likely); (d) terrorism and sabotage, first of all against infrastructure like gas and oil pipelines, as well as against foreign missions; (e) smuggling and transnational crime; and (f) Russia’s military bases as a short-term threat until they are fully withdrawn.

The TAD and NMS documents are largely repetitive in their listing of the main threats to ‘s security. The NMS mentions the threat not only from Russian military bases but also from the Russian peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia and Ossetia.

Published in 2007, the SDR lists the following types of threat: (a) large-scale aggression against Georgia (low probability); (b) renewal of fighting on the territories of the former autonomous areas of Georgia; (c) spreading of conflict from the North Caucasus; (d) spreading of conflict from the South Caucasus; and (e) international terrorism. From 2007 to 2012, the most likely threat was considered to be the renewal of military action on the territory of the former autonomous regions; and, most dangerous, large-scale external aggression. From 2013 to 2015, the most likely threat was considered by the authors of the SDR to be international terrorism, with the most dangerous one stemming from the spread of conflict from the Caucasus.

Recommendations from NATO had a strong influence on the authors of the SDR, which led to serious contradictions. Thus, the armed forces of should undergo a transformation into a compact, lightly armed army, but at the same time be able to undertake independent military operations up to and including the repulsion of aggression by a foreign state. And although NATO membership was seen as an eventual guarantee against a large-scale external aggression (which was also expressed in the earlier NSC and NMS documents), preparations for this eventuality determined in large part the force generation strategy of the Georgian army in the meantime. The negative consequences of this contradiction were intensified by ‘s limited resource base.

Participation in a conflict in the former autonomous regions would require the Georgian Armed Forces to possess a quantitative superiority (in terms of both manpower and military equipment) over the Abkhaz and Ossetian forces in both classical and antiguerrilla warfare terms. This would require a more numerous professional regular army and more numerous and more powerful heavy weapons, as well as numerous and well trained reserves.

Potential aggression on the part of a more powerful foreign state (Russia) also demands a large professional army and reserves and corresponding armaments (for example, air-defense systems) as well as the ability to conduct guerrilla warfare. The latter requirement was reflected in the NMS where it notes that the main tactical unit of the Georgian Army – the light infantry battalion – should be able to conduct both classical military actions as well as guerrilla warfare in an autonomous mode, but within the framework of an overall strategy, for which the service personnel need to be adequately instructed.

The following conclusions can be drawn:

  1. The above dualism in the approach toward the task of repelling large-scale foreign aggression had a significant influence on force generation under Saakashvili: either joins NATO or it develops an independent capability. Given limited resources, these options lead to different priorities for the development of the armed forces.

  2. The Saakashvili regime considered Russia to be Georgia`s main opponent, and the steps that took to reform its army leading to NATO membership were geared against . The task of confronting also led to the promotion of the “Total Defence” program of reserve training. A priority was given to deterring by means of inflicting unacceptable losses.

  3. The dualism of threats shaping military planning defined Georgia’s requirement for universal armed forces, capable of both classical and antiguerrilla warfare in the framework of a hierarchical military structure, as well as guerrilla warfare conducted by autonomous formations on the basis of light infantry battalions.

Reform of the Georgian Army under Saakashvili

Structural Transformation

To fulfill one of the requirements of the NATO Individual Partnership Action Plan,Georgia reformed its system of military governance, implementing a Western model of a civilian defense minister with its own administration alongside a Joint Staff, with a separation of functions between the Minister of Defense and the Joint Staff.[15] The Joint Staff commands: the service commands of the Armed Forces, departments (National Guard, rear support, education, intelligence, and military police),[16] and other structures. Other formations under central command include the following: Special Operations Group, located in the suburb of Vashlijvari suburb of Tbilisi and including, as of 2007, a Special Operations Detachment of officers,[17] a Special Operations Battalion, a School for Special Operations, and a Navy Detachment for Special Operations.[18] In addition, a Military Police Battalion was formed in 2008 under the control of the Minister of Defense.

The Land Forces are the main service of Georgian Armed Forces.[19] In light of the experience of armed conflict of 2004 in , Saakashvili decided in the fall of 2004 to transfer the Internal Troops of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs to the Ministry of Defense, where they became the 4th Infantry Brigade.[20]

As of the summer of 2008, the Georgian Land Forces included: the Headquarters, five Infantry Brigades (1st in Gori, 2nd in Senaki, 3rd in Kutaisi, 4th in Vaziani near Tbilisi, 5th in Khoni), an Artillery Brigade in Gori, an Engineer Brigade in Gori, six separated Battalions (Combined Tank in Gori counting 50 T-72 tanks, Light Infantry in Adlia, Medical in Saguramo, Communications in Vazinai, ELINT in Kobuleti, Maintenance in Tbilisi), an Air-Defense Batallion in Kutaisi (up four Osa-AK/AKM SAM batteries). The service strength of the Land Forces was about 22,000 men.[21] Meanwhile, the 5th Infantry and Engineer Brigades were still in the process of formation.

The Infantry Brigades as of 2008 numbered as follows: headquarters (60 men) and headquarters company (108 men, two AIFVs), three light infantry battalions (591 men each), one combined tank battalion (two tank and one mechanized companies – a total of 380 men, 30 T-72 tanks and 15 AIFVs), a maintenance battalion (288 men), an artillery batallion (371 men, 18 122 mm D-30 towed howitzers, 12 120 mm towed mortars, 4 ZSU-23-4 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun systems), a reconnaissance company (101 men, 8 APCs), a communications company (88 men, two APCs), a combined engineer company (96 men) – all in all, 3,265 servicemen.[22] The Artillery Brigade served as the main means of fire support for the Land Forces. In mid-2008, it numbered up to 1,200 men and included: headquarters, a batallion of 152 mm 2A65 Msta-B towed howitzers, a batallion of 152 mm 2S3 self-propelled howitzers, a batallion of 152 mm Dana self-propelled gun-howitzers, a batallion of BM-21 Grad, RM-70 and a GradLAR multiple-launch rocket systems, a batallion 100-mm MT-12 anti-tank guns,[23] a training battalion, a supply battalion, and a security company.[24]

In the summer of 2008, the bulk of the forces of the 1st Infantry Brigade (headquarters and headquarters company, all three light infantry battalions, the reconnaissance and engineer companies and communications company) were located in , numbering up to 2,000 men.

The Land Forces were equipped with the following armaments as of the summer of 2008:

  • 191 T-72 main battle tanks in several versions (of which probably up to 120 were upgraded to the T-72-SIM-1 version);

  • 56 T-55AM main battle tanks;

  • 80 BMP-1 armoured infantry fighting vehicles (of which 15 were upgraded to the BMP-1U version);

  • 74 BMP-2 armoured infantry fighting vehicles;

  • 11 BRM-1K armoured combat reconnaissance vehicles;

  • 5 BRDM-2 armoured scout vehicles;

  • 17 BTR-70 armoured personnel carriers (of which two were upgraded to the BTR-70DI version);

  • 35 BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers;

  • 86 MT-LB armoured multipurpose tracked vehicles;

  • Six 203 mm 2S7 Pion self-propelled guns;

  • One 152 mm 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled howitzer;

  • 13 152 mm 2S3 Akatsiya self-propelled howitzers;

  • 24 152 mm Dana self-propelled gun-howitzers;

  • 11 152 mm 2A65 Msta-B towed howitzers;

  • Three 152 mm 2A36 Giatsint-B towed guns;

  • 109 122 mm D-30 towed howitzer;

  • 15 100 mm MT-12 anti-tank guns;

  • 40 85 mm D-44 and D-48 anti-tank guns;

  • Five 262 mm M-87 Orkan MLRS (uncorfirmed);

  • Four or eight 122 mm/160 mm GradLAR/LAR-160 MLRS;

  • Six 122 mm RM-70 MLRS;

  • 16 122 mm BM-21 Grad MLRS;

  • About 80 120 mm towed mortars and up to 300 mortars with calibers of 60, 81, and 82 mm;

  • 15 57 mm S-60 towed anti-aircraft guns;

  • 30 23 mm twin ZU-23-2 towed anti-aircraft guns (some of which mounted on MT-LB vehicles);

  • 15 23 mm quad ZSU-23-4 Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft gun systems;

  • up to 18 9K33M2/M3 Osa-AK/AKM (SA-8B) SAM system self-propelled launchers.


The Georgian Army also had a large quantity of 9K111 Fagot and 9K111M Faktoria (AT-4), and 9K113 Konkurs (AT-5) anti-tank guided-missile systems, as well as 9K32M Strela-2M (SA-7B), 9K34 Strela-3 (SA-14), 9K310 Igla-1 (SA-16), 9K38 Igla (SA-18), and Grom MANPAD systems.

According to the SDR, following NATO recommendations, the service strength of the Georgian Army was to be drawn down to 11,876 men and three infantry brigades by 2015. However, in preparation for a military campaign against the former autonomous regions, the Land Forces were not shrinking, but rather growing in number. This was reflected in the Minister’s Vision for 2008-2011, which was meant to explain to NATO the reasons for the growing numbers of the Georgian Frmy and first of all the established of the 5th Infantry Brigade, and the refusal to disband the 4th Infantry Brigade.[25] The increase in the numbers of the Georgian contingent in Iraq from 850 to 2,000 servicemen and the increasing tension in relations with Russia were offered as the main justifications.

In September of 2007, the Georgian Parliament voted to increase the service strength of the armed forces from 28,000 to 32,000 men.[26] Shortly thereafter, the Georgian Minister of Defense announced the recruitment of contract servicemen to the 4th and the soon to be established 5th Infantry Brigades. In early 2008, the new Engineer Brigade began formation in Gori. In July of 2008, the Georgian Parliament made yet another decision to increase the number of servicemen to 37,000, which led to the announcement of the establish of a 6th Infantry Brigade, as well as increases to the air-defense and Naval forces.

In accordance with NATO recommendations,[27] the National Guard was transformed from an alternative Army to a training structure for reserves, providing for mobilization, home defense and assistance to civilian authorities. The need to reduce the number of servicemen in accordance with NATO recommendations, combined with the lack of any resolution to the Abkhaz and Ossetian issues, and the sharpening of relations with required the Georgian leadership to find means of combining these contradictory requirements. One way out was to establish a large-scale program for the training of reserves.

Following the armed conflict in in 2004, a decision was made to create territorial battalions of the National Guard on a volunteer basis. Volunteers were put through a three-week training course. In total, 27 battalions were formed.[28] In reality, the full-scale process of creating an organized reserve force got under way after the adoption in September of 2006 of the “Total Defense” concept and the adoption of the Law on Service in the Reserves in December of 2006.[29] According to the latter document, Georgian reserves are formed of three components: active reserves, National Guard reserves, and individual reserves. The first component was formed on the basis of a draft of Georgian citizens, the second one united the battalions trained in 2004-2006, and the third one was made up of former servicemen of the regular army. In 2007, the training of light infantry battalions began to follow an 18-day program. It was planned to unite them in five brigades (the 10th in Kojori, the 20th in Senaki, the 30th in Khoni, the 40th in Mukhrovani, the 50th in Telavi). In addition to light infantry battalions, the reserve brigades would include also artillery batallions.[30] In addition, the 420th Reserve Tank Battalion was established in 2008.[31]

The Georgian Air Force counted some 2,000 men by mid-2008, including: the Headquarters and Aviation Operational Center, the Marneuli Airbase (with a Squadron of Su-25 attack planes and a Squadron of L-39 trainers), the Alekseevka Airbase (with a Squadron of Mi-8 helicopters and a Squadron of UH-1H and Bell 212 helicopters), a Combined Helicopter Squadron (Mi-8, Mi-14, and Mi-24 helicopters), a Training Center that included a Squadron of An-2 aircraft, a Squadron of UAV’s, six radar stations, a ELINT detachment , an Air-Defense Base, including two S-125M (SA-3B) SAM systems batallions near Tbilisi and Poti and one (probably, second formed) Buk-M1 (SA-11) SAM system batallion in Gori.

Air Force combat action against Abkhazia and South Ossetia used the Senaki forward airbase. The Georgian Air Force included 12 Su-25 Frogfoot attack aircraft (of which six were upgraded to the Su-25KM version), two Su-25UB combat trainers, 12 L-39C jet trainers, four Yak-52 piston-powered trainers, six An-2 Colt light transport airplanes, five Mi-24V and three Mi-24P Hind attack helicopters, 18 Mi-8T/MTV Hip utility helicopters, two Mi-14PS Haze utility helicopters, six Bell UH-1H Huey and six Bell 212 utility helicopters.

The Georgian Navy in 2008 were composed of a main naval base in Poti, naval base in Batumi and Squadron of surface ships composed of a Flotilla of missile ships (fast attack craft), a Flotilla of patrol boats, a Flotilla of supply (landing) ships, a Marine Infantry Batallion, and mine countermeasures squad.

With a strength of about 1,000 men the fleet included two fast attack craft (missile) (Tbilisi and Dioskuria), eight patrol boats, two small landing ships, two landing boats and up to six small crafts.

Georgia also had a Coast Guard, with one patrol ship (a former German minesweeper) and up to 35 patrol boats and crafts. There were plans to fold the Coast Guard into the Navy by 2015.[32]


In the area of training, the Georgian leadership was able to attain great success due to: (a) higher quality of training of servicemen associated with the transition to contractual staffing; (b) reform of the system of military education and training; and (c) foreign assistance.

Compared with other CIS states, the transition to a contractual army proceeded with relative success and was aided by two important factors. First, Georgians entering the armed forces have a relatively high level of motivation due to the presence of unresolved conflicts on their territory and the likelihood that these would be addressed using force. Such motivation was especially high among Georgians who came from the former autonomous regions. The second factor was the relatively high pay given to servicemen. In 2008, a corporal’s wage was $640 per month and a lieutenant’s $770, which was 8.6 and 7.3 times higher than their respective wages in 2004 (not taking inflation into account).[33] Moreover, servicemen enjoy social subsidies as well as good living conditions on new or modernized military bases. In sum, by 2008 the entire Georgian Army, except the 4th Infantry Brigade, had completed the transition to fully professional service.

The training process for officers underwent significant change. In place of the Soviet system of training for junior officers over several years, the Western system of staged training was implemented, starting with a relatively short period of instruction followed by service in the forces. The high demand for officers for both the regular Army (including new units) and for the National Guard called for the introduction of short-term training programs (levels A, B, C) lasting 7-10 months, after which the successful student is awarded the rank of lieutenant.[34] Only those with higher education could enter this program. The in-depth training of young officers at level C involved specific skills, such as airmobile, parachute and mountain training, and lessons on topography and urban combat given by foreign instructors.[35] The shortage of young officers also led to the creation of accelerated programs for sergeants with higher education in contract service. They would be awarded the rank of junior lieutenant after the successful completion of a 9-week course.

A new stage in the preparation of officers was professional classes for captains, offered by the existing . Over the course of 12-18 weeks, officers would raise their qualifications to the level of senior lieutenant, captain, and major, mostly company commanders and battalion chiefs of staff.[36] Moreover, there is an accelerated five-week course for captains, which 11 officers from the 5th Infantry Brigade completed.[37]

It is worth mentioning two particularities of the personnel policy of the Georgian Army that had a negative effect on its combat readiness: (a) the large number of young officers who were granted very quick advancement; (b) frequent shuffles in the army’s leadership, which led to young officers with low ranks holding high positions; for example, infantry brigades were often commanded by majors, and sometimes even captains). Also, for political reasons, Saakashvili rarely fired any trained servicemen from the Armed Forces.

Foreign assistance to the Krtsanisi National Training Center contributed to improved training for servicemen as a whole. Foreign instructor training allowed to establish its own Basic Combat training for officers and recruits. The US-funded Georgia Sustainment & Stability Operations Program (GSSOP-I and GSSOP-II) deserves special mention. The first took place from the spring of 2005 to the fall of 2006, training three light infantry battalions, a maintenance battalion of the 1st and 2nd Infantry Brigades, as well as a reconnaissance company of the 2nd Infantry Brigade and a company of military police. The second program began in the fall of 2006 and finished in the summer of 2007, training two light infantry battalions, a maintenance battalion of the 3rd Infantry Brigade, its reconnaissance and engineer companies, and a communications company, as well as an engineer company and a communications company of the 2nd Infantry Brigade.[38]

Foreign assistance also enabled the establishment of a School for young commanders in Gori (later moved to Krtsanisi, with the assistance of American and Israeli instructors) and a in Sachkhere (with the assistance of French and Swiss instructors).[39]

In addition to NATO states, foreign assistance was also forthcoming from Ukraine. 150 Georgian servicemen were trained at the Air Force University in Kharkiv, including no fewer than 30 pilots.[40]

A massive program to train active reservists was launched under the “Total Defense” concept in 2007. The plan for the National Guard for 2007 and 2008 envisaged the training of 25,000 reservists per year with an 18-day program. Moreover, a program for the training of 27 territorial battalions of the National Guard was in preparation.[41] In view of the short duration of these programs, observers viewed the quality of the training for reservists skeptically.

In summary, the Georgian Army underwent a qualitative change for the better since Shevardnadze’s rule. The regular Army, in spite of its quantitative growth, became more professional thanks to national training combined with foreign one, extensive exercises, measures to increase interoperability with NATO forces, and participation in various operations outside of Georgia under NATO and US command (three infantry brigades and a number of smaller units fought in Iraq). The training of the active reserve of the National Guard did not meet the requirements of the “Total Defense” concept.

That said, there were several reports on the internet in 2008 citing foreign (American, Israeli, Ukrainian) military instructors and advisors critical of Georgian military training and preparedness. They remarked upon the low educational levels of those who signed up for contract service, serious problems with discipline among the troops, including theft of military equipment, a high level of corruption and cronyism, the lack of willingness of many officers to improve their low level of military training, the moderate demand made by commanders on their subordinates, and the inclination of the Georgians to self-congratulation.

Arms and Military Equipment Acquisition Programs

Saakashvili initiated an active program of defense procurement, allocating a huge amount of funds for this purpose, reaching 291.8 million lari ($194.5 million) in 2008.[42]

One of the major acquisition programs for the Land Forces began in January of 2008 with replacement of Kalashnikovs used by the regular Army with 5.56 mm M4A3 automatic carbines, purchased from US Bushmaster company (4,000 carbines were delivered by the end of 2007). The old Kalashnikovs were transferred to use of the reserves. In 2006-2007, a large batch of AK-74 and AKM (31,100 and 15,100) assault rifles and old 7.62 mm and 7.92 mm rifles were purchased from Ukraine.[43] 
made several significant purchases to improve its stock of heavy weaponry:

  1. Self-propelled artillery. From 2003 to 2006, purchased 152 mm 2S3 and Dana self-propelled howitzers from Ukraine and the Czech Republic (12 and 24 units respectively).[44] also purchased five 203 mm 2S7 Pion long-range self-propelled guns from Ukraine.

  2. Multiple-launch rocket systems. From 2003 onward purchased six 122 mm RM-70 MLRS from the Czech Republic. It also purchased four (or eight) Israeli GradLAR systems, including 160 mm LAR-160 Mk IV rocket s with a range of up to 45 km, as well as the 262 mm M-87 Orkan MLRS purchased from Bosnia & Herzegovina.[45]

  3. Mortars, especially for mountain and guerrilla warfare. In addition to those systems inherited from the Soviet Army, purchased mortars from Bulgaria, Bosnia & Herzegovina and the Czech Republic .[46] In addition,Greece donated 60 mortars in 2008.[47]

  4. Tank forces were bolstered with significant purchases of Soviet armor from Ukraine and the Czech Republic (from 2004 to 2007, Georgia acquired 160 T-72 tanks, 52 BMP-2 armoured infantry fighting vehicles, 15 BMP-1U upgraded armoured infantry fighting vehicles with new Shkwal turrets, 30 BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers, two BTR-70DI upgraded armoured personnel carriers, 14 MT-LB armoured multipurpose tracked vehicles).[48]

  5. The Georgian leadership devoted significant attention to army mobility. 400 new KrAZ trucks were purchased from , including 150 vehicles in 2008.[49] purchased new KamAZ military trucks from Russia, and Land Rovers and Toyota Hilux pickups from other countries.

  6. Large quantity weapons purchased for the infantry: 30 mm AGS-17 automatic grenade launchers from Ukraine and the Czech Republic and the and the Fagot, Faktoria and Konkurs anti-tank guided-missile systems from Bulgaria (total up to 150 launchers and 1750 anti-tank missiles).[50]

Procurement was supplemented with modernization programs, for instance, the upgrades of 191 T-72 tanks by the beginning of 2008 (probably developed the Israeli Elbit Systems project). The Georgian T-72-SIM-1 upgrade tank was equipped with GPS navigation receivers, battlefield combat identification system, thermal images cameras for the tank commander and driver, Harris Falcon communications system as well as the Ukrainian Kombat laser-guided missile projectiles (400 Kombat missile projectiles were delivered from Ukraine in 2007). The first upgraded tank company was completed of trainng course February 25, 2008, and probably up to 120 tanks were upgraded by August 2008.[51]

Other significant purchases for Air Force include the 12 L-39C jet training aircraft and the two Mi-8MTV and seven Mi-24V/P helicopters from Ukraine, six Bell 212 helicopters on secondary civil markets, 9M114 Shturm-V (AT-6) anti-tank guided-missiles from Kazakhstan,[52] Elbit Hermes 450, Elbit Skylark and Defense Aeronautics Aerostar UAVs from Israel, and the upgrades of six Su-25 to Su-25KM Scorpion by the Israeli Elbit Systems. A contract with US Sikorsky Aircraft for the delivery of 15 new UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopters by 2010-2011 was signed.[53] Future purchases of fighters and up to five C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft were planned.

In order to neutralize the Russian Air Force in case of conflict, the Georgian Air Force invested heavily in air defenses. Two new 36D6-M radars, up to five Kolchuga-M passive electronic monitoring radar systems, one Mandat electronic warfare systems, a batallion (or two batallions) of Buk-M1 SAM systems, and up to four batteries of the Osa-AK/AKM SAM systems were purchased from Ukraine,[54] and four P-18 Spoon Rest radars were modernized to the P-180U version by the Ukrainian Aerotekhnika company. The Georgian Army also acquired a large number of MANPADs, including the Igla-1 from Ukraine and Bulgaria and and the Grom from Poland.

The Georgian Navy acquired the Dioskuria Fast Attack Craft (Missile) (French La Combattante II class) from Greece as military assistance, along with 10 Exocet MM38 anti-ship missiles.[55]

The Georgian Ministry of the Internal Affairs since 2007 also delivered 100 Turkish Otokar Cobra light armoured personnel carriers.

Infrastructure Development

Significant resources were allocated under Saakashvili to the development of defense infrastructure, with two main goals in mind. The first one was to improve the quality of life of the servicemen; and second, to deploy units and subdivisions of the Georgian Army to the vicinity of the zones of conflict.

The priority given to the second factor led to the creation of a base in Gori for the 1st Infantry Brigade, in Senaki for the 2nd Infantry Brigade, the re-deployed of Artillery Brigade to the former base of the 3rd Infantry Brigade in Gori, and established of bases in Khoni for the new 5th Infantry Brigade.

This allowed for the concentration of the 1st Infantry, Artillery and Engineer Brigades within 30 km of the Georgia-Ossetia conflict zone, the 2nd Infantry Brigade within 40 km of the Inguri river, which marks the border between Georgia and Abkhazia, and the new 5th Infantry Brigade within 60 km.[56] In addition, the 3rd Infantry Brigade in Kutaisi was positioned for action against Abkhazia as well as South Ossetia.

In addition to the establishment of new bases, the old ones, for the regular Army as well as those transferred to the National Guard as training centers, were rebuilt.Turkey assisted with the reconstruction of the Marneuli Airbase.[57]


The contribution of foreign financing should not be underestimated: the various programs were worth millions or even tens of millions of dollars, with the largest (GTEP and GSSOP-I) amounting to about $60 million each. And though received assistance from many states, the total volume of this assistance (about $300 million over the past five years) was not terribly significant as a percentage of overall Georgian spending. Foreign assistance had a more significant impact during the late years of Shevardnadze’s regime and the early Saakashvili years, when the Georgian defense budget was much smaller. Moreover, Georgia paid for this assistance through the participation of Georgian forces in US and NATO operations in Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, which cost the Georgian budget at least as much as, if not more than, what it received in military assistance.

Defense Spending of Georgia from 2003 to 2007







Planned spending, million lari






Actual spending, million lari






Actual spending, million dollars






Share of GDP in %






Source: Strategic Defence Review // Ministry of Defence of Georgia, Tbilisi, 2007.

Two tendencies are worthy of note: the significant increase of defense spending under Saakashvili (over 31 times in dollar values from 2003 to 2007) and the growth of spending over the course of a year. In 2007, for example, actual spending (after three increases to the defense budget over the course of the year) was 2.9 times higher than originally planned. The budget for 2008 was originally set at 1.1 billion lari, but increased by 295 million in June 2008, making for a total defense budget for 2008 of 1,395 million Lari, or about $990 million.


Mikhail Saakashvili’s efforts to reorganize the Georgian Army were put to a fatal test when he made the rash decision to invade . The operation “Tsminda Veli” (Clear Field) to seize Tskhinvali led to a confrontation with and a massive return strike by Russian forces. The Georgian Armed Forces collapsed in the face of a superior foe.

In the course of subsequent Russian military operations, which took place in the absence of any resistance by the demoralized Georgian Army, Russian forces occupied and destroyed the well-equipped Georgian military bases at Gori and Senaki, and in Poti they seized and scuttled almost all of the ships and boats of the Georgian Navy and Coast Guard. The Russians seized and removed rich trophies. Taking combat losses into account, the Georgian Army lost between a third and a half of its ground forces heavy weapons and equipment, and almost all of its air defenses, Air Force and Navy.

Even more important, the Georgian elite and the Georgian Armed Forces suffered a tremendous psychological blow. The Georgian Army, in which so many resources were invested, proved incapable of defending the homeland, never mind challenging the Russians. The entire force generation effort of the past five years proved to be senseless, and any chances for revenge in the future appear to be improbable.

It is likely that the trauma suffered by the Georgian people will lead to a cardinal reexamination of the direction of force development in taken over the past few years. The ambitious, militaristic policy of ‘s leaders was an utter failure. Saakashvili dreamed of turning into a “Caucasus Israel.” In fact, Saakashvili turned out to be a Georgian Nasser, in his extreme overestimation of the military capabilities of his country, which led to a catastrophe similar to that suffered by Egypt in June of 1967.

Republished, with permission, from the Moscow Defence Brief, published by the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies 

[1] Rusadze N. National Guard`s Day // Defence Today, No. 6, 2007. p. 1.

[2] Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (

[3] Darchiashvili, D. Gruzia: zalozhnitsa oruzhiya // Kavkaz: vooruzhen I razobshchen (

[4] Ibid.

[5] Strategic Defence Review // Ministry of Defence of , , 2007. p. 98.

[6] U.S. Embassy in press releases: 05.02.2002; 05.08.2003; 09.01.2003; 12.13.2003; 01.17.2004; 04.21.04 (

[7] The History of «Krtsanisi» National Training Center // (

[8] Data on the top management of the Ministry of Defense, the United Headquarters, armed services, and the National Guard on Georgia`s MOD web site ( and that of the Georgian National Guard (

[9] UN Register ( and SIPRI (

[10] Official site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (; Strategic Defence Review // Ministry of Defence of , , 2007. p. 66.

[11] Strategic Defence Review // Ministry of Defence of , , 2007. p. 66-67.

[12] Official site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (; Strategic Defence Review // Ministry of Defence of , , 2007. p. 67.

[13] Strategic Defence Review // Ministry of Defence of , , 2007.

[14] Official site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (

[15] Official site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (

[16] Strategic Defence Review // Ministry of Defence of , , 2007. p. 86.

[17] Kakabadze, E. Reforma v tsvete khaki // Ogonek, No. 21, 2008.

[18] Interview with the head of the financial department of the Ministry of Defense, B. Makharidze.  // Defence Today, No. 3, 2007. p. 2

[19] Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (

[20] Voennyye novosti iz Gruzii // Zarubezhnoye voyennoye obozreniye, No. 12, 2004, p. 21.

[21] Strategic Defence Review // Ministry of Defence of , , 2007. p. 86.

[22] Ibid. p. 87.

[23] Ibid. p. 89.

[24] Interview with the head of the financial department of the Ministry of Defence, B. Makharidze. // Defence Today, No. 3, 2007. p. 2

[25] Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (

[26] 09.14.2007.

[27] Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defence (

[28] New Reserve Training & Management Concept, 2007. p. 4.

[29] Official web site of the Georgian National Guard (

[30] Official web site of the Georgian National Guard (

[31] Official web site of the Georgian National Guard (, news from 05.062008, 05.25.2008.

[32] Ibid. p. 86-90.

[33] Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defence (

[34] Training Program of the National Defence Academy // Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defence (; Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defence, Press Releases: 08.03.2006, 04.02.2007, 04.18.2007, 05.17.2007, 05.28.2007, 07.26.2007, 08.24.2007, 11.03.2007 (

[35] Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defence, Press Releases: 08.03.200604.02.2007, 04.18.2007, 05.17.2007, 05.28.2007, 07.26.2007, 08.24.2007, 11.03.2007 (

[36] Ibid. 08.22.2005, 12.23.2005, 02.02.2007, 07.27.2007, 02.08.2008.

[37] Graduation Ceremony of Captain Career Courses 02.29.2008 Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (

[38] Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense, Press Releases: 12.16.2005, 01.27.2006, 03.24.2006, 07.17.2006, 09.01.2006, 09.29.2006, 10.13.2006, 12.21.2006, 01.26.2007, 04.14.2007, 04.20.2007, 06.15.2007 (

[39] The History of Sachkhere Mountain-Training School // Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (

[40] Londaridze Sh. Georgian Pilots Trained in // Defence Today, No. 11, 2008. p. 4.

[41] New Reserve Training and Management Concept, 2007. p. 22.

[42] Official web site of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (

[43] UN Register (

[44] UN Register ( and SIPRI (

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Military Grant Agreement with the Hellenic Republic 06.18.2007 Official website of the Georgian Ministry of Defense (

[48] UN Register ( and SIPRI (

[49] Statement of Defense Minister of Ukraine Yuri Ekhanurov //(, 06.05.2008.

[50] UN Register ( and SIPRI (

[51] Topuria M. Training with Modernized Tanks // Defence Today, No. 8, 2008. p. 4.

[52] UN Register ( and SIPRI (

[53]  Russian Ministry of Defense (

[54] Ibid.

[55] SIPRI (

[56] Arabuli M. Recruitment for V Infantry Brigade Underway // Defence Today, No. 6, 2007. p. 1; Tsimakuridze R. New Military Base in Gori // Defence Today, No. 7, 2008. p. 1.

[57] Kurashvili K. New Squadron HQ Building Opened // Defence Today, No. 4, 2007. p. 2.