Roger’s $0.02: The Drone Wars

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Roger’s $0.02: The Drone Wars

Ever since Russian-backed troops entered and annexed the territory of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the country has invested heavily in the modernization of its armed forces. One of those investments has been the acquisition of twelve Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkish defense firm Baykar. Traditionally combat drones or UCAV has been the domain of highly industrialized countries like the US or the UK that could afford the infrastructure needed to deploy and operate them. The Bavaktar TB2 represents the commodification of that capability. It’s part of a new generation of combat drones that are smaller than American Reaper or Predator drones, cheaper and easier to deploy, and most of all affordable in significant numbers.

In 2020 Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Although the two nations eventually signed a cease-fire agreement after six weeks of fighting many considered Azerbaijan the victor. The crucial factor to this outcome used the widespread use of Israeli and Turkish-made combat drones by Azerbaijan. Through the use of these combat drones, Azerbaijan was able to disable or destroy Armenian armored vehicles and some air defense systems. When they ran out of high-value targets the Azeris focused on infantry. What was illuminating about Azerbaijan’s use of drones was they were employed. Instead of employing combat tactics meant for manned planes, the Azeri took advantage of what makes drones so compelling. They flew at altitudes so low that the enemy’s radar, anti-aircraft guns, and SAM systems were rendered ineffective. Using a variety of ordnance like guided bombs, missiles, or even kamikaze attacks Azerbaijan claimed to have taken out 250 armored vehicles and artillery pieces and 39 air-defense systems including Russia’s potent S-300 SAM system. The Armenian military was able to neutralize the threat of tanks, artillery, and SAM installations with very little risk to their assets. A bargain for any wartime commander. And because drones are significantly lighter and smaller than a combat plane they can stay over or loiter over the battlefield longer than a fighter bomber with its thirsty jet engines and pilot that will fatigue. This high endurance translated into an always-available asset commander to call upon when the needs arose. Finally, the drone could be launched out of the back of the truck like a missile obviating the need for runways or vulnerable air bases.

In the immediate future conflicts, both local and regional will feature drones as keystone weapon systems. Their relative affordability will assure that. Even more concerning will be the ability of non-state actors to purchase and use them as well. Whether for terror attacks, assignations, intelligence operations or even harassing civilians out of a disputed area drones will become a prominent feature in conflict areas. That means more hazards not only for the opposing army but also civilian groups like international monitors, NGOs, and political actors.


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