By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Drones are playing a key role in the clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. They have been used for footage of strikes by both sides and also used in the information war to show off each country’s abilities. So far footage posted online by Azerbaijan has generally been better, but both sides have shown how effective drones can be in the modern battlefield.
For instance footage from July 18 allegedly showed an Azerbaijan armored vehicle damaged. It is often hard to locate where these engagements took place or if the footage is actually recent.
The use of drones has also brought with it claims and counter-claims about which UAVs each side is using. For instance the same July 18 claim about Armenia destroying tanks claimed the drones involved were loitering munitions, or so-called kamikaze drones. This was alleged to be a Hreesh (“monster”) drone that Armenia showcased in 2018 and which resembles an Israeli Uvision Hero style drone. Countries often copy eachother in drone models, such as Iran trying to copy both the Predator and Sentinel drone.
The use of drones also caused some of them to crash or be shot down.
Turkey has also said it will back Azerbaijan and hinted that this could involve Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drones, which have been successfully deployed in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
How did this unfold. On July 12 reports indicated clashes near Tovuz. On July 13 Azerbaijan had released drone footage of artillery strikes on Armenian positions. A drone that looked like an Israeli SkyStriker, according to images posted online, was allegedly downed or crashed during those clashes. More Azerbaijan UAV footage was published (more and more).
One July 14 video may have been from a Loitering munition. Armenia responded with its own grainy drone footage, even showing shooting at a drone. Footage allegedly from an Armenian X-55 drone was also posted by @RAlee85 on July 15. One of the X-55s also crashed or was shot down.
The area of the clashes was geolocated as well.
Images of destroyed drones were key in reports about the clashes as well as images from the drones. Chronologies of the fighting also often mention drones, at least 15 times between July 12 and July 16. The SkyStriker and Hermes were both mentioned. An image of an Orbiter 3 reputed to be from July 18 was also posted online.
On July 18 more social media rumors said that Azerbaijan had received at least 6 Bayraktar drones. It was difficult to verify these reports.
The frequent use and images of drones in this conflict show how important they are. In general all the countries in this region have been seeking to improve their drone arm.
Back in 2008 Georgia was using numerous Israeli-made drones to conduct recon flights and several were shot down prior to the Georgia-Russia war.
Azerbaijan was revealed to be using loitering munitions years ago and January 2019 reports indicated it acquired Elbit Systems SkyStrikers. The Drive claimed in 2018 ” The allegations reportedly stem from an incident in Azerbaijan in which executives from Aeronautics, Limited “demonstrated” the capabilities of their Orbiter 1K suicide drone by flying a very real strike on Armenian-backed forces in a disputed border region.”
The use of drone videos by governments to provide information and show off propaganda is important. It didn’t begin in the 2020 conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it grew. It also brings in different technology, including Russia which is closely watching the UAV threat (Russia has used UAVs against Ukraine) and also Turkey which wants to increase its drone sales.
The full drone arsenal of Azerbaijan and Armenia may not be known. According to the Drone Databook Armenia has only three types of drones, including the X-55 and something called the Krunk and Baze, both of which are small and were built after 2010. Azerbaijan, by contrast, is a drone superpower in a sense, having multiple classes of drones. The Data Book says it has the Aerostar, SkyStriker, Orbiter 1K, Orbiter 3, Harop, Heron TP and Hermes 900, acquired since 2008. It appears to have rapidly increased its capabilities and arsenal since 2016. It sought to have a multi-layered drone arm, from loitering munitions, that are basically cruise missiles, to large UAVs that can conduct surveillance for more than a day on station.
On July 21 Armenia showed off drones it claimed to have downed.