Wednesday, 25 May, 2022
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How drones helped Azerbaijan defeat Armenia, and the implications for future modern warfare

In episode 618 of #CutTheClutter, ThePrint's Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta highlights military lessons from Armenia-Azerbaijan war, and their significance for India.

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New Delhi: The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan ended earlier this week, as both sides decided to sign a ceasefire agreement. 

In episode 618 of #CutTheClutter, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta explained that “unlike most wars in recent decades, this war has ended decisively in the sense that there is a victor, that is Azerbaijan, and there is a defeated side, that is Armenia.”

Back in the 1990s, it was the Armenians who had trumped Azerbaijan. But decades later the tables turned, in a way that could have severe implications on modern warfare.

“(This) is actually the first war in the history of modern warfare that has been won almost entirely on the strength of drone warfare,” Gupta noted.

The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan started on 27 September, over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. 

While Armenia only fought with tanks, artillery and air defence systems, Azerbaijan relied heavily on drones, specifically the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 and the Israeli-made Kamikaze drones. The two drones can carry bombs of up to 55 kg and 15 kg respectively.

“These are drones that are expensive, but very useful when it comes to targeting your adversaries, missile batteries particularly, your adversaries’ air defence radars, because all of those emit radiation,” Gupta said.

Also read: What’s Nagorno-Karabakh and why it’s led to clashes between Armenia & Azerbaijan after 30 yrs

How Azerbaijan won

Gupta went onto refer to two articles to illustrate how this war would change the future of warfare. One, in The Washington Post, titled ‘Azerbaijan’s drones owned the battlefield in Nagorno-Karabakh — and showed future of warfare’, and the second, published in a military warfare blog, Oryx, titled ‘The Fight For Nagorno-Karabakh: Documenting Losses on The Sides Of Armenia and Azerbaijan’.

The Oryx article tallied pictures and videos to establish how much equipment had been lost by both sides. The forces of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, the ethnic Armenians who had been living in the disputed region, lost 185 tanks, 45 armoured fighting vehicles, 44 infantry fighting vehicles, 147 towed artillery guns, 19 self-propelled artillery, 72 multi-barrel rocket launchers and 12 radars. Azerbaijan’s losses were only one-sixth of this.

“It’s as if armoured vehicles or tanks now are there for target practice if you lack the ability to handle drone attacks. If you have drone superiority, you don’t get tanks to fight tanks anyway,” Gupta said, illustrating why this was uneven warfare.

He further explained Azerbaijan’s “viciously clever tactics”, which involved baiting the Armenians using a repurposed biplane that dates back to 1947.

“They (Azerbaijan) took a biplane with a single propeller engine and converted it into unmanned single-use drones, which were sent to the Armenian defences, which thought this was a big threat coming,” Gupta added.

The Armenians activated their radars and missile batteries, which disclosed their positions. The Azerbaijan drone that had been encircling the area then came in and destroyed them. 

“That’s how almost the entire Armenian air defence and missile defence, surface-to-air missile defence was taken out,” Gupta said.

Also read: Armenia-Azerbaijan ceasefire broken again hours after truce

Advantage drone

Explaining the advantages that a drone provides, Gupta pointed out how it can debilitate a force by having a devastating effect on the morale of soldiers “because they do not know what will come and hit them”.

“Now, it’s very scary because you don’t know — you’re sitting on the ground, you are in a tank, and you don’t know which fellow is loitering over you someplace, and will pick up your electronic signatures or your heat signatures and come drop bombs on you,” he said. 

Gupta quoted an exasperated speech by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who said the defeat was unavoidable due to the “deep analysis of the military situation”. 

“An army sitting on the ground and air force with very expensive jets having pilots cannot fight a rival that is very good with the use of drones,” Gupta said, elaborating what the Armenian PM had stated.

The implications for India

Another important factor that Gupta laid emphasis on was that the drones had been acquired from Turkey.

“Now these drones are very controversial, because the Turks designed these and built these after the Americans and NATO put sanctions keeping the Turkish from buying drones from them,” Gupta said. 

Canada had also stopped exporting electronic parts that were being used by Turkey to build drones.

At the heart of the issue was the devastation that had been caused by the drones in the conflicts in Syria and Libya. As the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan proved, Turkey developed the capability to build its own drones, which could affect India.

Gupta explained: “Turkey and Pakistan are now very close allies. Turkey will not give Pakistan drones for free because its economy is a mess… But if one gets very desperate, the Pakistanis can find the money. So India has to work on the presumption that Pakistan has access to these.”

In conclusion, Gupta quoted researcher Franz-Stefan Gady’s remarks that had been highlighted in the aforementioned Washington Post article.

“Now, he (Gady) says that it’s not as if the tanks and armoured vehicles will become obsolete… but Nagorno-Karabakh has shown the ever-increasing importance of using armed drones along with other weapons and highly trained ground forces, and the exponentially more devastating consequences of failing to do so in future wars,” said Gupta.

Watch the full episode here:


Also read: Armenia, Azerbaijan accuse each other of ceasefire violations after Russia brokers truce


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  1. This means that nations and entities like Hezbollah that do not have the money for big defense budgets can fight with super powers. Combine these drones with relatively cheap ballistic missiles and you have a formidable military capability.

    A prime example is the US vs Iran. Comparatively speaking Iran has no Air Force, navy or armor. But it’s ballistic missiles are superb. Their air defense may be formidable if they reverse engineered the S-300 and I am sure they are looking closely at the drones. 30 percent of their population is Azeri.

    Meanwhile the US relies on aircraft and Patriot missiles to take out drones. Totally ineffective and very expensive. They had the Line Backer system which consisted of radar aimed guns. But it was moth balled.

    I think the day of the under dog is here. The days of the bullies may be over.

  2. Azerbaijan did not win. Russia came and stopped the fight. The PM of Armenia agreed to stop the fight since they were losing too many lives with the drones Azer was using. Anyway, Karabakh is back in Russia’s hands. 😉

  3. If Pakistan can get nukes without money …then acquiring Turkish drones would not be difficult for Pakistan…………..Modi has stuck Indian military in unwinnable two front war !!1

    • Lol, another paki is having day dream…what makes you think if a bankrupt country like Pakistan can get drones but 5th largest economy in the world aka India can’t??

  4. You, my friend, are a moron! Always learn from your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses. These less expensive suicide drones could be used by Pakistan to effectively deter our tactical advantage (especially with the s400’s coming in). There is currently no Air defence system/Jammers that could take this drone out!

  5. Azerbaijan won not because of drones, because they Took help from Israel and turkey . Also they used jihadies, afghan and Pakistan’s soldiers.

    • You are right,
      Unfortunately other nations did not come to the rescue of Armenia, eg, if India had supplied it’s medium range missiles to Armenia, the outcome of the war would have been different

  6. I don’t know what a report is this ??? Nuclear triad country like India need to learn lesson from Azerb ..NDTV sponsored half knowledge reporter like him are really mess to India its my opinion and am ready to have conversation if this Skephar accepted

  7. India should not only rely on drones as this is just catching up. We should give stress to innovation in military affairs. The army needs different kinds of machines and technology as well as drones. Future wars will be mostly fought by robots.

  8. India should approach to matters without taking side. Azerbaijan deserved to win as international integrity must be respected sa per United Nations.

  9. Editor’s opinion not fitted with India and other countries. Every countries and continental have specific and unique characteristics. So, whatever happened in given scenario never applied to others. Editor’s opinion is narrow in this context. So, it’s rejected.

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