Truth and myths – Did Azerbaijani drones really win in Karabakh?

This post was published in Nesavisimaya Gazeta by Aleksey Rami. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


MOSCOW, (BM) – The fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh has been going on for several weeks. So far, military successes are on the side of Baku. Azerbaijani forces were able to hack into Armenian defenses in several places. And if the offensive in the north is going rather slowly, then in the south Azerbaijan’s military achievements are obvious. Although with heavy fighting, the enemy front was broken through, a large number of settlements were liberated, and the Armenian formations were retreating. On October 21, the President of Azerbaijan announced full control over the border of NKR and Iran.

Many experts associate the achievements of the Azerbaijani troops with the active use of Bayktar drones, recently purchased from Turkey, and Israeli kamikaze drones HAROP. In many respects, such opinions are promoted by videos that are constantly published by the Azerbaijani military department.

They show high-precision strikes against Armenian armored vehicles, artillery, vehicles and even infantry positions. Not so long ago, several launchers of Elbrus tactical missiles and the Smerch long-range multiple launch rocket system became victims of drones. Also on account of Azerbaijani drones are launchers of the S-300 anti-aircraft system and several Armenian radars. Undoubtedly, the videos look very impressive and impressive. Although in several cases the published materials clearly show that previously hit targets became the victims of the UAV – we are talking about the destruction of the Repellent electronic warfare station. The shots of her liquidation by the kamikaze drone HAROP were published at the end of September.

But if you look closely at the photos on the Internet, you can clearly see that the car was completely burned out even before the impact. There was only one skeleton left of the kung, and the doors of the driver’s cab were torn off, the windows were broken and there was no sunroof. Most likely “Repellent” became a victim of artillery fire. This is evidenced by the characteristic destruction of shelters for personnel. They are in front of the caponier, where the electronic warfare station is located. Therefore, it is very interesting to figure out how effective Azerbaijani UAVs are, what means of destruction they use, and did they really allow Baku to completely abandon the use of classical aviation?

Horrible HAROP

There is an opinion that the HAROP reconnaissance and strike UAVs became the main strike systems of the Azerbaijani army. The latter were developed by the Israeli aviation concern IAI back in the early 2000s. The main task of HAROP is the search and destruction of anti-aircraft systems.

The drone is equipped with electronic intelligence equipment (sometimes it is indicated that there is even a radar on board), as well as optoelectronic systems. The drone patrols in a given area and, having detected a target, turns into ammunition, attacking it from a dive. HAROP can hang on a given route for several hours. Currently, the drone is being produced under license in Azerbaijan.

But in addition to HAROP, Baku has acquired and is manufacturing several more kamikaze drones under license. This is again about the Israeli Orbiter 1K, developed by Aeronautics Defense Systems (ADS). The contract for these products was concluded immediately after the April 2016 war.

But the agreement on SkyStriker drones produced by the Israeli company Elbit Systems was signed most likely in 2018 or 2019. In terms of its characteristics, this product is not much different from the Orbiter. It is believed that Baku began purchasing SkyStriker after the well-known scandal with representatives of the ADS firm. The latter held a demonstration of their product for the Azerbaijani military on the real target of the Armenian Armed Forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

SkyStriker and Orbiter are fairly simple drones. According to their characteristics, the composition of onboard equipment, and most importantly, the mass of the warhead, they seriously lose to HAROP. Their main task is to hit small and unarmored targets on the battlefield.

As the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said earlier, the first combat use of “flying ammunition” took place during the April 2016 war. True, at present only one reliable fact is known. Then, on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, with the help of HAROP, a bus with Armenian volunteers was destroyed.

Loitering ammunition did not become the main striking force in the course of the current war, if we analyze the videos posted on the official YouTube channel of the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan. The BPAL-kamikaze accounts for only a few targets hit. In particular, they destroyed three radar stations, one or two 5P85S launchers, an attack on the already destroyed electronic warfare station “Repellent”, and the elimination of the Smerch multiple launch rocket system. You can also find several hits of kamikaze drones in the trench and field fortifications of the Armenian armed formations.

During the conflict, several HAROPs crashed or were destroyed by air defenses over Iranian territory. They got there during the battles in the south of the NKR. It can be assumed that these products have become victims of electronic warfare. Their control was lost, the drones independently changed course and left the airspace of Karabakh.

Also known about one fallen Orbiter. True, this was not an attack drone, but its purely reconnaissance version – Orbiter-2. The device fell almost without damage in the Stepanakert region. Apparently, the landing system worked properly on it. Perhaps he also fell victim to electronic warfare.

Despite the well-established production of several types of kamikaze drones, the Azerbaijani military most often use HAROP in battles. As expected by its creators, they act against air defense systems, as well as important weapons systems. Analysis of the losses of the Armenian Armed Forces shows that the UAVs did not cope with their task. Armenian S-300s continue to function. However, like Smerchi, Elbrus and Tochki, which continue to strike at the territory of Azerbaijan.

The work of the lighter SkyStriker and Orbiter did not make it to the official Azerbaijani video at all. However, such a result is quite expected. Drones with small warheads of 3-5 kg ​​cannot inflict significant damage even on lightly armored combat vehicles. Not to mention tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers. Also, the strikes of such kamikaze drones are practically useless against the infantry hiding in the field fortifications.

Rocket bomb

Judging by the available information, the main striking force of Azerbaijan was a bunch of Bayktar drones with guided missile systems, as well as artillery. On the official videos of the Azerbaijani military department, you can clearly see how missiles fly up to targets, and sometimes artillery shells.

It seems that Baku is actively using adjustable artillery ammunition. This version is supported by videos with particularly accurate hits of single artillery shells in field fortifications, as well as in armored vehicles. The effectiveness of such strikes is very high.

Earlier, Azerbaijan purchased modern self-propelled gun mounts 2S19M1 “MSTA” from Russia. Therefore, it is not excluded that recently Baku purchased additional Krasnopol corrected ammunition for them. Moreover, the export version of this projectile is one of the most modern in the world and has unique characteristics. Suffice it to say that the Krasnopol version for the Russian Armed Forces was created on the basis of the export version.

To destroy mobile objects – tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled gun mounts, MLRS and air defense systems – the Azerbaijani military uses Spike guided missiles of the ER and NLOS models. The characteristic silhouettes of these items can be found in the official videos of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense.

It can also be assumed that the Bayktar are aimed at heavier weapon systems. In particular, the guided 300-mm missiles of the Polonez complexes and the Israeli tactical missiles LORA. It seems that it was the Belarusian-Chinese “Polonaises” that effectively destroyed the operational-tactical complexes “Elbrus” of the Armenian Armed Forces at the positions. It was the drones that guided the corrected ammunition to the target.

It must be admitted that the Turkish Bayktar drones are well suited for this job. They are equipped with sufficiently powerful optoelectronic systems, including those with night and thermal imaging channels. But the main thing is that modern and very efficient laser rangefinders are installed on board.

At the same time, there is still no reliable confirmation of the use of small-sized guided munitions from the Bayktar. These are the 22 kg MAM-L bombs. These products, guided by a laser beam, are capable of striking targets at a distance of up to 8 km. The bombs are equipped with various warheads, including thermobaric and anti-armor warheads.

Bayktar combined with MAM-L turned out to be a very unpleasant surprise for the Syrian Armed Forces during the fighting in Idlib this spring. The drones hung continuously in positions and attacked the Syrian infantry and armored vehicles with guided munitions. Later, videos with footage of effective strikes on tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and units of government troops were distributed by the Turkish Defense Ministry.

True, the subsequent analysis of losses showed that the beautiful pictures did not quite correspond to reality. The overwhelming majority of “destroyed” armored vehicles received fairly minor damage and were later promptly restored. Also, MAM-L could not cope with the infantry, who took refuge even in ordinary houses.

It should be noted that the Azerbaijani Bayktar have Turkish guided ammunition on board. In particular, in the photo of the drone shot down by the Armenian air defense on October 20, you can see two MAM-L. Most likely, the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan are well aware of the low power of Turkish corrected ammunition, therefore, they are used extremely limitedly. Bombs are hung under the drones, most likely just in case. Suddenly, a convenient target will turn up under attack – for example, a car moving along the road.

Victory or defeat?

At first glance, Azerbaijani drones demonstrate unique combat capabilities. Already we can safely talk about a new unmanned revolution in military affairs. But this is only at first glance. The stories about the unique capabilities of kamikaze drones were too optimistic. So far, these products account for an insignificant percentage of the destroyed Armenian equipment and personnel. So it’s too early to trumpet about unmanned swarms sweeping away everything in their path.

So far, the most effective Azerbaijani military tool is the Bayktar UAV, which directs artillery and guided missiles at targets. As in the case of Idlib, Turkish drones hang over the front line and tactical rear, knocking out targets, disrupting Armenian attacks and isolating defense areas. But in reality, the possibilities of such a scheme are limited. They are determined by the firing range of Spike missiles and artillery systems – and this is only a few tens of kilometers.

Therefore, the Azerbaijani military cannot fight at the operational level with the transfer of Armenian reserves. This requires the use of the already full-fledged aviation and delivering massive strikes against the advancing columns. At the same time, the LORA and Polonez long-range missile systems are ineffective against mobile forces. But Baku cannot use aviation – the Armenian S-300s have not yet been suppressed.

Therefore, the Azerbaijani offensive is, in general, difficult. Every time the Armenian command manages to accumulate the forces necessary for a counterattack in the breakthrough sector. Although such strikes could not turn the tide, they strongly slow down the Azerbaijani offensive.

Another important fact should also be noted here. Azerbaijan purchased HAROP and mastered its production specifically to combat Armenian long-range air defense systems. But so far, these kamikaze drones have only two launchers of the S-300 system. So it can already be argued that the main symbol of the current war did not cope with its task.

The current situation is not a merit of the unique Turkish UAVs, but a complete failure of the military planning of the Armenian Armed Forces. During the fighting in Idlib, the Syrian Armed Forces promptly brought Buk and Pantsir anti-aircraft systems into the combat area. Thanks to them, the attacks on the troops were seriously weakened, and the Syrian forces launched a counteroffensive and threw the pro-Turkish militants back to their original positions. Moreover, Ankara was forced to sit down at the negotiating table and agree to a truce that was not the most advantageous for itself.

A similar situation developed this summer during the offensive by the forces of the Government of National Accord in Libya. Then, also thanks to the continuous strikes of Bayktar, the defense of the Libyan National Army was broken and the armed forces of the LNA were forced to retreat. But with the appearance of the “Shell”, the situation immediately stabilized. Moreover, the LNA was able to gain a foothold on new lines and defeat suitable units of the GNA

When these events are mentioned, many experts immediately recall that more than a dozen Pantsir anti-aircraft missile-gun systems became victims of Bayktar in Libya and Syria. But the results of the battles are determined not by the level of losses, but by the achievement of the sides at the time of the cessation of active clashes.


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