A 2019 video from Armenian outlet Shant News shows a whole range of military drones on display.
Drones are ideal for this type of conflict. They are cheap, highly accurate and can be used without risking a pilot. They are also deniable. Even if a drone shot down, the operators can claim it is nothing to do with them, as the U.S. did with Firebee spy drones shot down over China in the 1960s and many times since. There have been a series of claims of drones shot down, most recently in April the Artsakh forces downed an Azeri Orbiter Drone.
That small, remote antagonists should launch small aircraft packed with explosives at each other may not seem like cause for concern. But drone technology will not stay confined to one area. And the drones are farm from primitive.
“Many former Soviet countries inherited STEM and military manufacturing know-how and capabilities following the dissolution of Soviet Union,” Samuel Bendett, an analyst with the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. told this reporter. “We have seen, over the past decade, the near monopoly on drone manufacture and use move from a handful of key nations — U.S., U.K., Israel, Iran, China — to literally dozens of countries.”
Ukraine is a particularly telling example. During the conflict with Russia, the country has had to rapidly develop its own drone capability. University teams, technologists, hobbyists and soldiers worked together to get effective designs to the front line as fast as possible with impressive results. When the U.S. supplied RQ-11 Raven tactical drones to Ukraine in 2016, they quickly fell prey to Russian jammers, something the Ukrainians had learned to counter on their own drones.
The U.S. military is also acquiring commercial Skydio drones, another indication that the latest in the commercial sector can match what the military can field, with its four-to-six-year lag in equipment purchase. The new Artsakh drone really may match what the rest of the world can offer.
“This trend is going to accelerate — already, Ukraine, Estonia, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are either producing and using, or announced the intention to domestically produce unmanned systems,” says Bendett.
But while a slew of minor nations now manufacture their own, many NATO members like the U.K. and Germany still lack tactical attack drones. And while the U.S. forces have their own Switchblade loitering munitions, they lack an effective defense against the enemy kamikaze drones that they are increasingly likely to face.
“UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – drones] are cheap mission multipliers, and small militaries like those in the Caucuses can amplify their footprint by acquiring unmanned systems,” says Bendett.
Companies like Azeri outfit AZDynamics are actively seeking to export drone technology. The more they proliferate, the easier it will be for everyone to get hold of such weapons. The drone war in the Caucasus could soon become a drone war in your backyard.