Baku/05.04.21/Turan: On March 30, in the American analytical collection Foreigh Policy, I published an article: “The U.S. Army Goes to School on Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict).
Author Jack Detsh writes that the events of the fall of 2020 convince the American military of the need to study the experience of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, which defeated Armenia with the help of inexpensive drones.
When Azerbaijan took over the skies in its fight with Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh last fall, winning the air war with commercial Turkish and kamikaze drones, one thing started to become clear to U.S. Army strategists: It’s becoming easier to hunt and kill troops than ever before—and to do so on the cheap.
With inexpensive, combat-ready drones proliferating on battlefields all over the world, in the not-too-distant future unsuspecting soldiers might get killed just by getting out of their positions for a moment to go to the bathroom.
“You can see video of tanks being hit by an unmanned aerial system, artillery positions being hit by an unmanned aerial system, troops being hit by an unmanned aerial system,” said Col. Scott Shaw, the outgoing head of the Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group.
What has become apparent after Azerbaijan routed Armenia last fall, he said, is that not only will the U.S. military no longer enjoy uncontested air superiority against peer rivals like China—something Defense Department officials have long resigned themselves to—but that poorer nations can buy themselves a respectable air force mostly off the shelf.
“What’s clear in that conflict is that a less funded nation can do combined arms warfare,” Shaw said. “You don’t have to be the United States or Russia. The price point to entry into combined arms warfare is lower than initially thought. You don’t need something like the United States Air Force, a superbly trained, spectacular capability, in order to conduct potentially a local air-to-ground or air-to-air activity.”
During the six-week conflict, Azerbaijan deployed Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones and loitering munitions, many of them Israeli-made, to shrink the battlefield and chip away at Armenia’s armored forces as well as the logistical tail that hadn’t even reached the front lines.
As Azerbaijan rolled up more territory in the disputed region, propaganda videos showing the destruction of Armenian convoys and ammunition depots became a calling card of the new military approach. In the waning days of the conflict, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev even touted a laundry list of Armenian equipment purportedly destroyed or captured, including nearly 250 tanks, 50 infantry fighting vehicles, and four Russian-made S-300 missile defense systems, as well as 198 trucks and 17 self-propelled artillery units. In mid-October, Aliyev credited Turkish drones with helping his military to destroy more than $1 billion worth of Armenian equipment.
But it’s not clear how those numbers translate into truth. Shaw said the tremendous amount of disinformation flying around on open-source networks made it difficult to figure out everything that happened in real time.
It’s also still not clear to experts that drones definitively tilt the balance toward attackers or defenders. Some think that the war in Nagorno-Karabakh is another sign that the days of the U.S. military relying on overwhelming “shock and awe” bombing campaigns, like those that marked the start of both Iraq wars, are over. Instead, the United States should prepare for a knock-down, drag-out fight, similar to attrition wars of the past.
In the United States, plans are being developed to use unmanned weapons. Mark Esper, a former defense secretary, has sought to persuade the Trump administration to create a navy of 355 unmanned ships. It is not yet clear how President Biden assesses this plan, but in March 2021, the Navy and the US Marine Corps adopted a roadmap for the use of unmanned systems, the article notes.
It should be noted that Israel became the main supplier of UAVs for the Azerbaijani army – tactical reconnaissance aircraft Aerostar, Orbiter 2M and Hermes 450, later Thunder was added to them.
There are also shock drones in the arsenal of Baku – Bayraktar TB2.
Azerbaijan in 2011 began licensed assembly of Orbiter 2M and Aerostar, and then Orbiter 3, which is considered one of the best in its class. In 2017, the assembly of the Orbiter 1K kamikaze drone began.