A forgotten war is gaining new momentum in the Caucasus, as opponents arm themselves with increasingly advanced drone technology for spying and strikes. The alarming implications stretch far beyond a small corner of Eurasia, David Hambling, a South London-based technology journalist, consultant, and author, wrote in his Forbes article.
According to him, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, conflict between the newly independent states of Armenia and Azerbaijan flared up over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave that’s legally part of Azerbaijan.
"A ceasefire was brokered by Russia in 1994, after Armenia gained effective control of the territory. Nagorno-Karabakh has declared itself an independent state called Artsakh but has failed to win international recognition and is still widely considered part of Azerbaijan. Conflict simmers between Azerbaijan and Artsakh with their patron Armenia," he noted.
According to him, in 2016, the matters escalated into an open war with dozens, and possibly hundreds, of people killed on both sides.
"The 2016 escalation was notable for a new type of weapon, the Harop ‘loitering munition’ or kamikaze drone supplied to the Azeris by Israel. Harops reportedly successfully hit many targets including artillery, air defense systems artillery system and a busload of Armenian troops," he noted.
Harop was sold to Azerbaijan by the Israeli company IAI. Then, the Israeli company Aeronautics entered into an agreement with Azerbaijan for the supply of Orbiter 1K drones, he added.
According to the author, in the longer term, Azerbaijanis plan to release a licensed copy of Orbiter, known as Zarba. In 2019, Azerbaijanis bought a batch of SkyStriker drones, also from Israel.
"The other side has not been slow either. Armenia has been producing drones since 2011, when it showed off the basic Krunk (‘Crane’) scout drone, long since superseded the Krunk-9 and Krunk-11.
In 2018 Armenia announced it was buying military drones from Artsakh. The small state evidently has an active drone industry, and last month the Artsakh Defense Ministry announced it had successfully tested a new combat dronewith mass production planned in the next few months. They even released a video of the kamikaze drone hitting a target, stating the weapon is ‘not inferior to similar devices designed by leading countries in terms of technical characteristics," he added. "Drones are ideal for this type of conflict. They are cheap, highly accurate and can be used without risking a pilot. "
The new Artsakh drone really may match what the rest of the world can offer, the article noted.
“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 Samuel Bendett, an analyst with the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C.
The drone war in the Caucasus could soon become a drone war in your backyard, the article concluded.