https://www.forbes.com-Israeli Harop drone on display at the 2011 Paris Air Show. (PIERRE VERDY/AFP via Getty Images)
AFP via Getty Images
Paul IddonContributor-I write mostly about Middle East affairs, politics and history.
Azerbaijan’s growing inventory of armed drones may have convinced Baku that it has a substantial enough military and technological edge over Armenia which could enable it to prevail in the latest ongoing conflict in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The latest Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began on Sept. 27 and has already seen the deadliest fighting in that region since 1994. Among other weapons, Azerbaijan has used its drones in combat.
In recent years, Baku acquired Israeli-built Harop loitering munitions, also known as ‘suicide’ or ‘kamikaze’ drones, designed primarily for destroying enemy radars as part of suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) operations.
Azerbaijan also began acquiring Turkish Bayraktar TB2s this year, which carry precision-guided MAM-L (Smart Micro Munitions).
In an interview on Turkish television, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed that the TB2 is already proving their worth for Azerbaijan in this latest conflict.
“Thanks to advanced Turkish drones owned by the Azerbaijan military, our casualties on the front shrunk,” he said. “These drones show Turkey’s strength. It also empowers us.”
Azerbaijan has also used its Israeli Harops in this conflict.
“The advanced drone capabilities Azerbaijan has acquired from Turkey and Israel do seem to have convinced Baku it has a military advantage over Yerevan,” said Matthew Bryza, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan and a former U.S. mediator of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“For this reason, Azerbaijan has been able to adapt its military strategy away from a more traditional ‘blitzkrieg’ assault, which would require breaking through Armenia’s heavily fortified defensive lines to enable deep strikes into occupied Azerbaijani territory,” he added.
Such an assault would be a “highly risky” approach and one that mightn’t have worked since Armenia’s military has been preparing to defend against such an assault for decades now.
“Instead, advanced drone capabilities have enabled Azerbaijan to adopt a lower-risk strategy of attrition, relying on precision strikes to destroy high-value Armenian military assets (such as air defense missile systems and armored vehicles),” Bryza said.
Contrary to a ‘blitzkrieg’-type assault, this approach has so far enabled Azerbaijan “to avoid the vulnerability of extended supply lines.”
President Aliyev also said that Azerbaijan’s military seeks to learn from and replicate Turkey’s armed forces. This goal likely motivated Baku to procure Bayraktar drones, especially in light of their successful use in combat by Turkey recently in Syria and Libya.
“I believe Azerbaijan was inspired by Turkey’s innovative and decisive drone strikes in Syria (in late February/early March) and Libya (last May),” Bryza said.
He noted that those strikes in Syria’s Idlib earlier this year were “so innovative and effective” that the Royal United Services Institute in London went so far as to state that it called into question the utility of the main battle tank. In the future, main battle tanks will require advanced electronic warfare and short-range air defense systems to defend themselves against such attacks.
Samuel Bendett, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses’ (CNA) and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), questioned how overall effective Azerbaijan’s drones have been in this conflict so far.
“Basically, Azerbaijan may not have gained a ‘significant’ advantage since it is still suffering losses in men and material, and its also losing some of its drones to Armenian forces’ extensive air defenses,” he said. “But it has certainly gained ‘an’ advantage with a weapon that can cause additional stress and attrition to the Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh forces.”
Bendett noted that the main advantage of a drone like the Bayraktar is its ability to cause physical and even mental damage against its opponents, even if it doesn’t actually complete its mission. It achieves this by demonstrating its capacity to strike at will.
“Such UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) demonstrate the ability to project force while keeping other key assets– like manned aircraft – available for other missions,” he said.
In the context of the current conflict, Armenia is already indicating that the civilian population in Nagorno-Karabakh might be in danger, “a result that may influence further conduct of this war.”
Bendett also noted that Turkey’s drone strikes on Idlib might have been substantially different than Azerbaijan’s current drone campaign since Syrian forces there did not have substantial air defenses like Armenia and forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh possess today.
“But Turkey’s actions once again underscored the key importance of UCAVs in current and future conflicts,” he said.
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I am a journalist/columnist who writes about Middle East military and political affairs.