If you don’t think Drone Swarms are THE Threat of the 2020s, you are Mistaken

In the recent five-week Nagorno-Karabakh war, between Azerbaijan– supported by Syrian mercenaries and Turkey — and the so-called Republic of Artsakh together with Armenia (who had the low-key support of Moscow), cheap drones proved absolutely decisive. The Azerbaijani relied heavily on Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 and Israeli Harop/Orbiter/SkyStryker kamikaze drones to strike at the Armenian/Artsakh forces.

Besides tanks and APCs, the Azerbaijan Department of Defense said that several Osa, Strela-10, and S-300 air defense systems were also destroyed by TB2s. Azerbaijan also reportedly modified its slowpoke 1950s-era Antonov An-2 Colt biplanes with remote-control systems, flying them to the front lines to draw out Armenian air defenses. In short, SEAD by UAV, showing these craft as the modern Wild Weasels.

The Bayraktar TB2, with a max takeoff weight of just 1,400-pounds, isn’t fast, pedaling around at just 120 knots, roughly the same speed as a Great War biplane. However, it can carry four laser-guided smart munitions, each capable of zapping a tank. (Photo via wiki commons)

In all, the former Soviet republic had less than 200 drones of all kinds on hand, but they proved the key to battle.

The really scary part is how plug-and-play the Turkish drones were, only fielded by the Azerbaijanis less than six months before the conflict. 

From a CSIS report on the conflict:

Azerbaijani drones provided significant advantages in ISR as well as long-range strike capabilities. They enabled Azerbaijani forces to find, fix, track, and kill targets with precise strikes far beyond the front lines. UAVs were operationally integrated with fires from manned aircraft and land-based artillery but also frequently used their own ordinance to destroy various high-value military assets. Open-source reporting suggests that drones contributed to disabling a huge number of Armenian tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery units, and air defenses. Their penetration of Nagorno-Karabakh’s deep rear also weakened Armenian supply lines and logistics, facilitating later Azerbaijani success in battle.

So for cheap, UAVs stand to flip the battlespace in favor of low power states.

For instance, Iran, which has both reverse-engineered downed U.S. drones and acquired other designs as needed, has shown off hundreds of indigenous craft of late.

All of this means that it is no surprise that DOD just released their official 36-page Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Strategy.

Expect far more counter-drone jammers and active defenses on the battlefield of the future, or else it is going to be very one-sided.

One comment

  • It staggers the mind to think of the target a ;low, slow aircraft (120 kts) represents to a 50 cal. Did the defenders not have quad 23mm? Somehow one wonders how effective these weapons might be without massive jamming. I myself believe the future to be small blasa aircraft powered by rubber bands, much like those vaunted drones you showed the Iranians parading.

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