Wednesday 1 September 2021

The Tigray Defence Forces - Documenting Its Heavy Weaponry

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
A war that broke out between the Ethiopian government and its northern Tigray region has thrown the country into turmoil. Armed conflict has been raging since November 2020, killing thousands and displacing millions. The escalation came after months of tensions between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) political party. For nearly three decades, the TPLF was at the centre of power in Ethiopia after defeating the communist-socialist state that existed in Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991. Tigrayan officials were able to dominate the government despite only accounting for some five per cent of the Ethiopian population. After a wave of anti-government protests from 2014 to 2016, a new government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018. Abiy pressed reforms that sought to curb the power of the TPLF, much to the dismay of the Tigrayans. In response, Tigray, held its own regional elections and tensions increased to the point of open hostilities. The political crisis erupted into war when TPLF forces attacked Ethiopian Army bases in Tigray in November 2020.
Perhaps contrary to popular expectation, Tigray forces operate a sizeable arsenal of tanks, artillery and even took possession of long-range guided rockets and ballistic missiles. Yes, you've read that right: ballistic missiles. While the capture of ballistic missiles by rebel forces is nothing new, it is less common when they also start putting them to use. Even more rare is when these are used to target another country entirely, which is exactly what Tigray forces did. Reportedly launched in response to the presence of Eritrean troops in the Tigray Region, Tigray forces fired at least three missiles at Eritrea's capital Asmara hours after it warned Eritrea that such an attack may be imminent. [1] Around the same time, Tigray forces (meanwhile morphed into the Tigray Defences Forces) also fired Chinese M20 SRBMs against Ethiopian air bases in Bahir Dar and Gondar in retaliation for Ethiopian air strikes in Tigray. [2]
As of September 2021, TDF forces continue to press on their offensives into Ethiopia, with control over areas going back and forth as no end to the conflict appears in sight. Undoubtedly in an attempt to change the country's fortunes, Ethiopia has begun acquiring Mohajer-6 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) from Iran. Whether its fleet of Iranian, Israeli and Chinese UAVs is enough to stem the TDF's seemingly unstoppable advance is uncertain, and we might well see additional drone acquisitions by Ethiopia in the near future in an effort to secure the military breakthrough the country is looking for.
A map of the conflict zone showing the respective areas of control can be seen here. This map is updated as the war progresses. 

A detailed list of heavy weaponry confirmed to have been operated by the Tigray Defence Forces can be viewed below. This list is constantly updated as additional footage becomes available. This list only includes vehicles and equipment of which photo or videographic evidence is available. Therefore, the amount of equipment captured and operated by Tigray forces is significantly higher than what is recorded here. Tigray was home to a significant portion of the Ethiopian Army's heavy weaponry, much of which fell in the hands of Tigray forces in November 2020. Large numbers were subsequently recaptured by Ethiopia however, and therefore could not be included in the list. Not all heavy weaponry is operated by the TDF at the same time, with some entries already lost in action. Small arms, mortars, ATGMs and trucks are not included in this list.

(Click on the numbers to get a picture of each individual vehicle)

Tanks (86)

Armoured recovery vehicles (1)

  • 1 BTS-5B: (1)    

Armoured personnel carriers (30)


Towed artillery (65)

Multiple rocket launchers (16)

Ballistic missile launcher (1)

  • 1 M20/A200 TEL: (1) (Used in the missile strike on Bahir Dar airbase in November 2020)

Rocket and Missile support vehicles (4)

Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (12)


Anti-aircraft guns (27)


Surface-to-air missile systems (13 launchers in 4 sites)

  • 1 S-75 ''SA-2'' site: (1)
  • 3 S-125 ''SA-3'' sites: (1) (2) (3)

Radars (7)

  • 1 P-18 'Spoon Rest D': (1)
  • 2 ST86U/36D6 'Tin Shield': (1) (2)
  • 1 SNR-75 'Fan Song' (for S-75): (1)
  • 3 SNR-125 'Low Blow' (for S-125): (1) (2) (3)