Is the battle for Karabakh a war of a new type?

In the one and a half month battle for Nagorno-Karabakh, Soviet equipment and modern weapons met on the battlefield. What conclusions can be drawn?

As a result of the battles, one conclusion suggests itself – any army without a serious air defense system and modern electronic warfare is doomed, if not to rout, then certainly to defeat. It is possible to surpass the enemy several times in the number of armored vehicles and artillery, but without covering them with air defense means, tanks and cannons will become an easy target for attack drones, which will destroy them practically in polygon conditions.

We observed this in Idlib, when Turkish drones inflicted sensitive losses on the Syrian army, then all this was practically repeated in Libya and continued in Karabakh.

Turkish drones Bayraktar TB2 dominated the Karabakh airspace and destroyed Armenian equipment and manpower with almost impunity.

Despite the fact that, according to the statements of the Armenian side, several “bayraktars” were shot down, this had little effect on the course of hostilities. Having such an ally as Turkey, Azerbaijan could treat such losses calmly, knowing that they would be promptly compensated by the Turks.

In this conflict, it is surprising that only Bayraktar TB2 strike drones were involved, not the most modern, I must say.

In recent years, Turkey has managed to launch five shock drones into production at once and in this direction to take the leading positions in the world. Moreover, it is Turkish drones that are the most belligerent today, widely used in Syria, Libya and Karabakh.

If not the most modern Bayraktar TB2s are supplied to the post-Soviet republics, such as Azerbaijan and Ukraine, then the Turkish armed forces use the more “advanced” Anka-S drone, and in the near future, if the need arises, they can throw Akinci twin-engine attack UAVs into battle and Aksungur. These are quite serious machines, with a large bomb load and a range, which are an order of magnitude superior to the Bayraktar TB2 in terms of operational capabilities. However, the last drone has also proven its effectiveness in modern conflicts.


UAV Bayraktar TB2. Photo from the site airwar.ru

There is no doubt that if the Karabakh war lasted another month, the Azerbaijani army would simply finish off the remnants of the Armenian units and occupy the entire territory of Karabakh. Despite the fact that the Armenian side has been preparing for the war for many years, hardly anyone expected that the war of 2020 would be radically different from the war a quarter century ago.

If earlier both armies – Armenian and Azerbaijani – were armed with the same Soviet weapons, then the current Azerbaijani army has reached a new technical level, widely using Turkish and Israeli weapons.

For example, Azerbaijanis actively used Israeli kamikaze drones Harop, and even though they can hardly be called ultra-modern, the Armenian army did not have anything similar even close. And most importantly, the Armenian units fighting in Karabakh did not have an effective air defense system and electronic warfare equipment, which predetermined the outcome of the conflict.

You can be a hero at least three times, but one Kalashnikov assault rifle and Soviet tanks cannot fight a lot, and they will in no way protect against unattainable shock drones. Especially if the enemy has a lot of them, and not only them.

Based on the foregoing, it can be argued that two different armies met in Karabakh: the Armenian, for the most part, armed with weapons of the last century, and the Azerbaijani, which is armed with a number of modern systems that give a huge advantage over the enemy. Back in Syria, it was clear how, in general terms, not nuclear armed conflicts of the 21st century would look, and the war in Karabakh only underlined a number of key points.

From now on, not armored armadas and numerous divisions will decide the outcome of the conflict, but the presence of high-precision weapons, a modern air defense system and advanced electronic warfare. And a failure in just one of these components can easily lead to defeat.

Also, the Karabakh conflict showed an ever-decreasing role of armored vehicles on the battlefield. For a month and a half of fighting, both sides lost more than 40 tanks and dozens of infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, many of which were destroyed without having time to fire a single shot at the enemy. Yes, even without having time to see the enemy.

Armored vehicles are increasingly beginning to resemble battleships, which were expensive and laborious to manufacture, but with the development of rocket weapons, they became useless. Of course, tanks will remain in service with many armies of the world for a long time, but if the armored vehicles are not covered by the “umbrella” of air defense, then it turns into a defenseless target. It is enough to look at the footage of the destruction of Syrian and Armenian tanks by Turkish drones, which shot them as if in a shooting range.

What conclusions should the Russian military draw from the Karabakh conflict? Of course, there are many of them, but the main one is the following – in the digital era, it is not the heroic infantryman and no less heroic tanker that comes to the fore, but soulless robotic systems.

There is no doubt that there were many manifestations of heroism and self-sacrifice on both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides, but the course of the war was largely determined by impassive digital birds – shock drones. It probably makes no sense to say that both the Armenian and Azerbaijani armies are incomparable in terms of equipment with the armies of the NATO countries, but the fact is that many of them are also not sufficiently equipped with ultra-modern air defense systems, electronic warfare systems and a sufficient number of high-precision weapons. This is especially true of the armies of Eastern Europe.

Unfortunately, the Russian army still lags behind the United States, Israel, China, Turkey and even Iran in terms of attack drones. Projects of attack drones have long been developed, many of them are almost brought to mass production, but it will take more than one year before the troops are saturated with the required number of attack drones. But they were needed yesterday or even the day before yesterday. Moreover, this applies to all types of attack drones, including kamikaze drones.

If you look at the actions of Russian aviation in the conflicts of recent years, they essentially differ little from the actions of Soviet aviation during the Second World War. Tons of bombs are poured onto the adversaries’ heads, of which a small percentage are corrected ammunition. It turns out to be expensive, due to the use of bombers with an expensive flight hour, and sometimes ineffective. And if the plane is shot down and the crew dies, then it is also a human tragedy.

The same Turkey in Syria and Libya uses piston-powered shock drones, with a small cost of an hour of flight and penny ammunition. Not only do they accurately hit almost all targets, with the exception of underground bunkers, the pilots do not die in the event of a shootdown, and the drone itself costs several times less than a bomber, for example, the Su-24. Why is there a whole bomber – the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 UAV costs less than one Su-24 engine.

And to control the drone, you need not high-class pilots, whose training costs a very serious pretty penny, but an operator, in the role of which almost a schoolboy who has become skilled in computer games can act. So, in modern conflicts, the use of drones is much more profitable and more effective than the use of jet combat aircraft.

And since everything in the modern world is measured in money, then the sale of drones has more prospects than the trade of fighters and bombers. With the latter, there is a clear surplus on the global arms market, but only a few countries offer drones. In addition, selectively, for example, the United States does not sell its drones to just anyone, like Israel. Therefore, the Turkish companies Baykar and TAI, which produce the Bayraktar TB2 and Anka-S drones, have a very good chance of becoming one of the world leaders in the sale of their drones. Especially if we manage to completely localize them and get rid of the export restrictions of the countries that supply the components.

Conflicts in Syria, Libya and Karabakh have made Turkish attack drones an excellent advertisement that can only be dreamed of. Therefore, it is possible that not only Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Qatar, but also many other countries will want to acquire Turkish drones in the near future.

The world arms market, although it has its own specific features, is subject to general rules – whoever did it, ate it. Those who are able to offer an innovative product will work, and those who did not succeed are late.

Therefore, it is a pity that Russia is only in the role of catch-up, although the first domestic drones, moreover, jet ones, appeared in the USSR. But the so-called “perestroika” and especially the post-perestroika years in many areas threw the country back decades. And it is not surprising that in Russia, attack drones appear only now, and, for example, in the United States, the Predator strike drone was adopted back in 1995.

If we move away from the technical component of the Karabakh conflict, then the most important conclusion is that one cannot save on armies and weapons. We all remember what the overwhelming pacifism of Gorbachev-Yeltsin led to, who flared up to the whole world with feeble-minded brotherly love and rushed at an accelerated pace to reduce the army and defense spending.

Already in 1994, the country had to pay a very high and terrible price for the mistakes of incompetent and short-sighted rulers. At the same time, Azerbaijan showed how to treat its army and the rearmament process.

The long-term modernization of the army led to a virtually complete solution of the old territorial dispute, the end and edge of which, it seemed, would not be. So it remains to repeat and paraphrase a little the famous phrase of Alexander III: Russia has only three allies – a modern army, a modern navy and an advanced military-industrial complex.

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