316. Insights from the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in 2020 (Part II)

[Editor’s Note: Today’s post consists of two articles — excerpted respectively from the January and February 2020 editions of the OE Watch, published by the Foreign Military Studies Office, TRADOC G-2 — that continue to explore the ramifications of this brief conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  While tucked away in a remote corner of the Caucasus, the consequences of this most recent flare up in a long simmering conflict are potentially far-reaching.

Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 served as a combat proving ground, facilitating the testing of new operational concepts and weapons systems for the combatants’ respective sponsor states (Russia and Turkey).  The lessons learned there should resonate across the Operational Environment and the changing character of warfare.  These include:  the failure of national defense establishments with archaic and byzantine acquisition processes to recognize and rapidly incorporate emergent technologies; the return of Proxy Warfare; Electronic Warfare’s central role on the battlefield; weapon systems’ subcomponent supply chain issues; shortcomings of current Air Defense command and control and target acquisition systems; and the key role ISR and strike drones may play in establishing air supremacy in future warfare.  Read on! (Please review this post via a non-DoD network in order to access all of the embedded links — Thank you!)]

1. Karabakh War Might Spur Russian Attack UAV Development (OE Watch, January 2020, pp. 13-14)

OE Watch Commentary: As reported last month (OE Watch, December 2020, “Early Lessons-Learned from Nagorno-Karabakh” [see also Mad Scientist Laboratory blog post 303. Insights from the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in 2020]) Russian military analysts continue to examine how Azerbaijani forces prevailed over their Armenian counterparts. The popular daily, Moskovskiy Komsomolets, interviewed the deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), Konstantin Makienko, regarding his assessment of “Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia.” The accompanying excerpt from his analysis merits closer scrutiny.

Makienko begins by asserting that “Turkey’s participation [on the Azeri side] was, of course, very significant or even decisive.” He claims that it is likely that “the entire operation was planned by the Turkish headquarters,” and that it was not just planning, but that “Turkish officers provided support both at the headquarters level and directly on the battlefield.” He further states that, “Turkish aviation carried out jamming of radio communications of the Armenian troops.” Makienko goes on to assert that “in the Karabakh conflict, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become not just a means of reconnaissance, target designation and carriers of high-precision weapons. In this war, with their help, air supremacy was first established.

Konstantin Makienko, Deputy Director of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) / Source: CentreAST on Twitter, https://twitter.com/CentreAST/status/1189542710237110274

Makienko also describes Russia’s continued inability to produce and field an attack UAV.  He recounts attending a press conference 15-20 years ago with the Russian Air Force Commander, and asking “why are we lagging behind in the development of unmanned aircraft and, in particular, in the creation of strike drones?”  At the time, the commander answered, “why do we need them?  We have enough planes and pilots.”  Later, questions developed in the military over “who should have command of unmanned aircraft—pilots or ground forces? Who needs it more?”  Makienko asserts that no one took ownership for producing an attack UAV, and the “programs for the development of unmanned aircraft were not considered a priority in the system of research and development work of the Ministry of Defense.”  Even today, he argues that “there are still no centralized inter-service management bodies for such programs, including the creation of systems necessary for unmanned aviation (engines, optoelectronic systems, control systems), no proper political and administrative support, no purposeful policy to create centers of competence in this area.

Makienko concludes the interview by repeating “as of today, there are still no attack drones in Russia… [and that] we are 20-25 years behind our American ‘partners’ in this area.”  He posits that “in a typical domestic style, the demonstration of the use of drones in the Karabakh war will spur Russian unmanned programs, forcing, finally, some in Russia to finally see the importance in fielding such a weapon system.”  End OE Watch Commentary (Ray Finch)

“…As of today, there are still no attack drones in Russia….”

Source:  Olga Bozhiev, “Эксперт объяснил, почему Россия отстала в области ударных дронов на 25 лет (An expert explains why Russia is 25 years behind in the field of attack drones),” Moskovskiy Komsomolets, 5 December 2020. https://www.mk.ru/politics/2020/12/05/ekspert-obyasnil-pochemu-rossiya-otstala-v-oblasti-udarnykh-dronov-na-25-let.html

The Karabakh war, its course and results are being actively discussed, including in Russia.  It is not uncommon to hear statements that Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia is actually a victory of Turkish weapons over Russian ones.  And it was not Armenia that lost in this war, but Russia.  Are these statements true?  Is the Karabakh war really a bell for our defense industry, which has not done everything for the Russian army?  Why don’t we still have strike drones?  These questions were asked by “MK” analyst, deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) Konstantin Makienko.

Turkish troops ready for deployment in Azerbaijan: Turkish Defense Ministry / Source: Hurriyet Daily News at www.hurriyetdailynews.com

 Has Turkey increased its military presence in Azerbaijan following the war?

– Yes, it is quite obvious that the Turkish presence in Azerbaijan has increased dramatically….  First of all, Azerbaijan won, of course….  But Turkey’s participation was, of course, very significant or even decisive.

In all likelihood, the entire operation was planned by the Turkish headquarters.  During the operation itself, Turkish officers provided support both at the headquarters level and directly on the battlefield.  There is good reason to believe that Turkish advisers were present in battle formations at the battalion level and above, and in some cases were also at the company level.

Turkish aviation carried out jamming and jamming of radio communications of the Armenian troops…

 Did the war in Karabakh show the increased importance of attack unmanned aircraft?

– Of course.  But unmanned vehicles in this case are interesting mainly as another mechanism for reducing the cost of using precision weapons and increasing their proliferation….  But the main thing – I draw your attention to this fact – in the Karabakh conflict, unmanned aerial vehicles have become not just a means of reconnaissance, target designation and carriers of high-precision weapons.  In this war, with their help, air supremacy was first established.

 So why the Russian army, in contrast to the Turkish or Israeli, lagged behind in this segment of weapons?

Emblem of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation / Source: Wikimedia Commons

– The lag of the Russian Armed Forces in the implementation and development of unmanned technologies is primarily caused not by some technological reasons, but is a consequence of problems with the definition of development priorities.

– Exactly!  I remember very well how 15-20 years ago at a press conference I asked the Air Force Commander: why are we lagging behind in the development of unmanned aircraft and, in particular, in the creation of strike drones.  To which he answered absolutely seriously: why do we need them?  We have enough planes and pilots

…. And at the General Staff, everyone was arguing: who should give command of unmanned aircraft – pilots or groundmen?  Who needs it more?  And it turned out that no one needed her.

“… programs for the development of unmanned aircraft were not considered a priority in the system of research and development work of the [Russian] Ministry of Defense.”  The Russian MoD building at Frunzenskaya Embankment. Moscow. / Source:  Wikimedia Commons

– Yes, programs for the development of unmanned aircraft were not considered a priority in the system of research and development work of the Ministry of Defense.  And this has become a very important reason for our lag.  We are still reaping the fruits of that policy.  There are still no centralized inter-service management bodies for such programs, including the creation of systems necessary for unmanned aviation (engines, optoelectronic systems, control systems), no proper political and administrative support, no purposeful policy to create centers of competence in this area.

Programs for the creation of unmanned aerial vehicles are still “on their own” and are left to the mercy of industrial organizations, sometimes rather weak.  As a result, we have only a mass of light small apparatuses with extensive use of imported components.

Russian UCAV Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik, currently undergoing tests / Source: Wikimedia Commons, Photo by TerHussein, via CC-SA-4.0

 But the use of imported components in military equipment for the Russian army is prohibited. So there is still a problem with attack drones?

– As of today, there are still no attack drones in Russia….  That is, we are 20-25 years behind our American “partners” in this area.

But now, especially after the Karabakh war, have we started to reduce this gap?

We are maturing …  In my opinion, so far in the domestic military-political circles there is no clear understanding that unmanned aerial vehicles in combination with high-precision weapons offer a cheaper and more economical version of modern warfare…  So, perhaps, in a typical domestic style, the demonstration of the use of drones in the Karabakh war will spur Russian unmanned programs, forcing, finally, some of the Russian men to ‘cross themselves.’ Thunder has burst out.”

2. Armenian Assessments of the 2020 Nagorno Karabakh War (OE Watch, February 2020, pp. 14-15)

OE  Watch  Commentary:  The Armenian government carried out several reforms in the armed forces following the April 2016 clashes in Nagorno Karabakh, including acquisitions of weapons and equipment, in order to avoid another scenario of losing territory to Azerbaijan.  The accompanying excerpted article provides a look at how the September-November 2020 war, which resulted in Azerbaijan gaining a significant amount of territory, is driving examinations of lessons learned for the Armenian government and armed forces following the recent conflict.

“Within the first two weeks of the ongoing clashes, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces destroyed some 60 pieces of [Armenian] air defenses, mostly 9K33 Osa [shown here] and 9K35 Strela systems” — see: Insights from the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in 2020.  9K33 Osa (SA-8 Gecko) Russian 6×6 Amphibious Short-Range Tactical Surface-to-Air Missile System from the TRADOC G-2’s ODIN Worldwide Equipment Guide
The article, from the Armenian news website News.am, first looks at how “a number of Russian sources this week reported that specialists from the Military Academy of the Air Defense Forces of Russia conducted a thorough analysis of the large-scale losses of Armenian air defense systems in Nagorno-Karabakh and the almost complete dominance of Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).”  The Russian sources reported that “the issue was a low radar cross-section of Turkish UAVs, which did not enable enough time to detect them, giving them an opportunity to successfully open fire,” but the article notes how “representatives of the academy did not discuss these issues (in a report) and there were no field tests that showed ‘low efficiency’ of Russian air defense systems.”

Despite the fact that there was no report from the Russian air defense academy, the article mentions how “politicians in Yerevan have also put forth various accusations against Russian weapons and air defense systems in particular.”  Outside of this, the article includes statements from the former secretary of the security council of Nagorno-Karabakh.  The former secretary claimed that “Armenian politicians and the military did not prepare for a large-scale armed conflict” and that officials “reassured themselves with the thought that a negotiating body would come to their assistance, having neither the capabilities nor the military contingent to deal with Azerbaijan by force.”  Lastly, the article states that Armenian forces “reacted sporadically and haphazardly” to Azerbaijani actions on the line-of-contact in recent years prior to the 2020 war and that this includes “the inability to create a well-controlled, multi-component and layered air defense system.”  As the Armenian government continues to assess what happened with its armed forces during the 2020 Nagorno Karabakh war, air defense will be one area to watch for reforms.  End OE Watch Commentary (Matthew Stein)

“For a long time, Azerbaijan was consistently preparing to break the defenses of Armenians on the line of contact, accumulating reserves and conducting reconnaissance, including reconnaissance in force.”

Source:Уроки Карабаха: могут ли российские средства ПВО противостоять беспилотникам (Lessons of Karabakh: can Russian air defense systems counter unmanned aerial vehicles),” News.am (Armenian news website based in Yerevan), 22 December 2020. https://news.am/rus/news/620332.html

“A number of Russian sources this week reported that specialists from the Military Academy of the Air Defense Forces of Russia conducted a thorough analysis of the large-scale losses of Armenian air defense systems in Nagorno-Karabakh and the almost complete dominance of Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)…

96K6 Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound) Russian Short-Range Air Defense Gun/Missile System, just one of several Russian Air Defense systems that “reportedly show[ed] their low efficiency when operating against small UAVs with a radar cross-section of less than 0.01 square meters…”  TRADOC G-2’s ODIN Worldwide Equipment Guide
“Apparently, the issue was a low radar cross-section of Turkish UAVs, which did not enable enough time to detect them, giving them an opportunity to successfully open fire,” said one of the sources… the sources stated results of field tests of air defense systems, including the Buk-M1, the Tor-M1, Osa-AKM, Pantsir-S1 and Tunguska-M1, and reportedly show their low efficiency when operating against small UAVs with a radar cross-section of less than 0.01 square meters…

However, representatives of the academy did not discuss these issues (in a report) and there were no field tests that showed “low efficiency” of Russian air defense systems… Some Russian media sources published reports with titles such as “The ineffectiveness of modern air defense systems in the Karabakh conflict”… The media outlets that circulated this information could draw attention to at least some, at first glance, insignificant issues.

Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 earned its sobriquet — “Pantsir-hunter”– on Syrian and Libyan battlegrounds, then again in Nagorno-Karabakh, due to its successful kill scorecard of the Russian-manufactured Pantsir SHORAD system. TRADOC G-2’s ODIN Worldwide Equipment Guide

For example, “the Turkish UAV’s radar cross-section was too small is to blame.” Nonetheless, the wingspan of the Bayraktar TB2 is 12m and its length is 6.5m. This is noticeable to almost any radar station… Its speed and service ceiling make it a target for almost any air defense system.

There is a notably smaller radar cross-section of the Israeli Harop UAV… The area of the reflective surface of the Harop is estimated to be 0.5 square meters.

The IAI Harop (or IAI Harpy 2) is a loitering munition developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and employed by Azerbaijan. TRADOC G-2’s ODIN Worldwide Equipment Guide

…it should be remembered that politicians in Yerevan have also put forth various accusations against Russian weapons and air defense systems in particular… The reason for the defeat and failures of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh are not in the quality of Russian weapons, but in the lack of preparation for an armed conflict, starting with operational equipment in the theater to the number of trained specialists and last but not least, the calculations of air defense systems…

Samvel Babayan, former Secretary of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Security Council

…according to Samvel Babayan, the former secretary of the security council of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Armenian politicians and the military did not prepare for a large-scale armed conflict. They reassured themselves with the thought that a negotiating body would come to their assistance, having neither the capabilities nor the military contingent to deal with Azerbaijan by force…

For a long time, Azerbaijan was consistently preparing to break the defenses of Armenians on the line of contact, accumulating reserves and conducting reconnaissance, including reconnaissance in force. Armenians reacted sporadically and haphazardly… as well as the inability to create a well-controlled, multi-component and layered air defense system. As a result, on the first day of the war on 27 September, according to Babayan, the Armenians in Karabakh lost up to 50 percent of their air defense systems and 40 percent of their artillery from Azerbaijani strikes…

If you enjoyed today’s post, check out its companion piece at:

Insights from the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in 2020

… read the following related posts:

“Once More unto The Breach Dear Friends”: From English Longbows to Azerbaijani Drones, Army Modernization STILL Means More than Materiel, by Ian Sullivan.

The Convergence: The Future of Ground Warfare with COL Scott Shaw and listen to the associated podcast

The Bear is Still There: Four Insights on Competition with Russia

Major Trends in Russian Military Unmanned Systems Development for the Next Decade, by proclaimed Mad Scientist Sam Bendett

Insights from the Robotics and Autonomy Series of Virtual Events, as well as all of the associated webinar content (presenter biographies, slide decks, and notes) and associated videos [via a non-DoD network]

… and be sure to tune into the Mad Scientist Laboratory this Thursday, 1 April 2021 for our next episode of “The Convergence,” featuring an interview with COL John Antal (USA-Ret.) discussing the implications for future conflict from the Second Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, the psychological effects of drone warfare, and the future of maneuver.

>>>> REMINDER:  Be sure to register for Mad Scientist’s next virtual event Climate Change – Threats, Resilience, and Adaptation — on Tuesday, 13 April 2021(1430-1600 EDT). Join our panelists:

      • Dr. Elizabeth Chalecki, Associate Professor of International Relations, University of Nebraska – Omaha, and Wilson Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
      • Dr. Anne Marie Baylouny, Associate Professor of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School
      • Damarys Acevedo-Mackey, Environmental Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

… as they present their unique perspectives regarding Climate Change’s impact on the Operational Environment and the associated implications for the U.S. Army, and then answer questions from registered participants.

Check out this event’s 5W’s here, and then register here [via a non-DoD network] to participate in this informative event!

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