Nagorno-Karabakh: New weapons for an previous battle spell hazard | Asia Information
The new Nagorno-Karabakh war is a conventional war waged by professional armed forces.
But this time around, high-tech weapons of the 21st century can make this decades-old conflict more devastating than ever.
If the official battlefield statistics are to be believed, the death toll is staggering. Azerbaijan has yet to confirm the number of its war dead.
However, Armenia said it had killed or wounded 5,000 Azerbaijani workers at the time of writing. Armenia has regularly updated its number of military bodies, which is now close to 500. Azerbaijan has estimated that the real number is many times higher.
Claims of territorial gains and losses inflicted on each side have proven difficult to verify. Not only do media teams have limited access to frontline battles, but aerial bombing of civilian areas has made their work extremely dangerous.
At least six journalists were injured.
But battlefield videos and the familiar military capabilities of the two warring factions suggest that Azerbaijan has the technological advantage, especially with its combat drones bought from Israel and Turkey.
Some carry their own missiles. Others are guided “kamikaze” bombs.
Whether they have the destructive power to prove a determining factor in the current conflict remains to be proven.
Digital billboards in Baku have broadcast high resolution images of missiles hitting Armenian tanks and other military equipment, as well as groups of soldiers trapped outdoors.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told Turkish TV that Turkish drones owned by Azerbaijan had “decreased” the number of Azerbaijani casualties.
“These drones show the strength of Turkey. It also empowers us, ”he said.
In this photo from a video released by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense on October 1, 2020, the Azerbaijani armed forces are attacking the artillery of the Armenian army [Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry/AP]Defense analysts said President Aliyev was referring to Bayraktar TB2, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) manufactured by the Turkish defense company Baykar. One broadcast was reportedly part of a defense deal agreed in June.
The Bayraktar TB2 can operate at an altitude of 8,000 meters, which makes detection difficult, and can fly for up to 27 hours with a payload of four missiles.
“We saw Bayraktar drones, which the Turkish Air Force actively used in Syria and Libya [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad and General [Khalifa] Haftar’s army [in Libya]”Said Fuad Shahbaz, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic Communications in Baku.
“Now they recently appeared in Azerbaijan and are actively used against the separatist regime in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Another enemy UAV destroyed pic.twitter.com/lewb3fTW5i
– Shushan Stepanyan (@ShStepanyan) October 11, 2020
Rob Lee, a PhD student at University College London, said the use of TB2 had dramatically affected the Armenian armed forces on the ground and their ability to strengthen and defend themselves.
“TB2s were originally designed for air defense systems. The ones we saw destroyed are from the 1980s. I think the radars are struggling to pick up these small UAVs.
“That’s when the TB2 began tracking tanks and artillery, and now that they have passed through a number of priority targets we see them targeting squads of soldiers.”
The Bayraktar TB2 drone made in Turkey [File: Birol Bebek/AFP]Wealthy Azerbaijan’s defense spending has dwarfed Armenia for years, allowing it to purchase advanced weapon systems, mostly from Russia, Israel and Turkey.
While Russia remains the main arms supplier to both countries, Israeli and Turkish drones and missile systems risk outperforming the often dated Russian hardware of Armenia.
“Russia realized after 2016 that it had to equip Armenia with what it had sold Azerbaijan in order to rebalance the power dynamic,” said Lee.
This includes the Iskander M, a tactical missile system with an accuracy of up to 10 meters, a range of up to 500 km and a highly effective avoidance of air defenses.
So far it has not been used.
People wearing masks to protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus walk past a billboard to support Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Ankara, Turkey [Burhan Ozbilici/AP]But Shahbaz said the Armenian armed forces would ultimately have to grapple with Azerbaijan’s numerical supremacy.
“The separatist regime is well informed about a country with 10 million inhabitants, 70,000 active military personnel and a 300,000-strong reserve army. So you can’t resist for long. “
An accurate hit destroyed the ENY units preparing for night ATK. pic.twitter.com/6HyOmEI0A4
– Azerbaijan MOD (@wwwmodgovaz) October 11, 2020
If the Armenian armed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh are numerically and technologically superior, they have an important advantage: geography.
An Azerbaijani ground invasion would have to overcome well-fortified defensive positions, which are located on a hill in mountainous areas.
Richard Giragosian of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan believed Azerbaijan may have already paid a price for military equipment and personnel.
“The extent of the Azerbaijani offensive was so spread across the broad line of contact that its initial deployment of the armed forces was dispersed and logistically overstretched, making it more vulnerable to counterattacks.”
An unexploded BM-30 Smerch missile can be seen on October 12, 2020 on the outskirts of Stepanakert, a capital in Nagorno-Karabakh [Aris Messinis/AFP]Since the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding Azerbaijani territories before the 1994 armistice, the Armenian armed forces have had years to prepare their defense.
“They have pre-planned targets, precise coordinates and grids,” Lee said. “They know how to dial in so that the first mortar or artillery they fire is right on target.”
Karabakh forces are also likely to have fortified secondary positions with weapons to draw upon.
“Even if you have these small profits in Azerbaijan, it is difficult to take advantage of them. If you break a line in a war, you can often take advantage of that weakness and reclaim a lot of territory. But it is difficult in Karabakh because there are only a few streets. If you take out the first vehicle, the others won’t be able to get around you. “
For now, however, the status quo appears to be beneficial for Azerbaijan, Lee said.
“TB2s just sit over them, waiting for targets of opportunity. Ultimately, the Armenians do not have a good plan to destroy them. They have to do something or Azerbaijan will keep beating them. “
The Republic of Armenia, which supplies the armed forces in Karabakh with weapons and conscripts, has a limited number of modern Russian “Pantsir” air defenses that can be used to find and shoot down TB2s.
The remains of an unmanned aerial vehicle are pictured on the outskirts of Stepanakert during the military conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region on October 11, 2020 [Stringer/Reuters]“Do you want to send them from Armenia to Karabakh, where they are likely to lose some? I’m not sure if Armenia is ready for this, ”said Lee.
Without an effective defense against Azerbaijan’s apparent air supremacy, the TB2 attacks are likely to continue to take their toll on the Armenian workforce and morale.
“You don’t know where the fire is coming from, it’s the invisible enemy,” said Giragosian.
“There’s this science fiction movie effect. And not just the military – the political use of attacks on civilians, infrastructure, and cluster bombs, as documented by Amnesty International, undermine the morale of political leaders. It is a psychological warfare that attacks the will to fight. “
In this photo from a video released by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense on October 2, 2020, Azerbaijani armed forces are attacking the Armenian army camp during the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh [Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry via AP]However, Azerbaijan’s military advantage can be undermined by its professionalism.
“I’ve seen a few videos of Azerbaijani armed forces not operating very tactically,” said Lee.
“The Azerbaijani military is generally not seen as very capable because promotions are based on political ties. Even if the Azeris use high-tech products, the Armenians can defeat them if their tactics and techniques are not used properly. “
Search and rescue teams carry the body of a victim away from the site of the explosion, which was hit by a rocket during the fighting over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region in the city of Ganja in Azerbaijan on October 11, 2020 [Umit Bektas/Reuters]Both sides have resorted to trade in missiles and missiles across the line of contact and deep into civilian towns and villages, increasing the civilian casualty rate.
But there could now be signs of a reduction in fighting that coincides with the recently agreed humanitarian ceasefire in Moscow and the expected start of winter.
“We need Azerbaijan to get to a point where they are satisfied that they have enough territory and we need Turkey to stop putting Aliyev under pressure to move on,” said Giragosian. “Russia was characterized by its unusual absence and passivity. The real burden lies with Azerbaijan to do a calculation. Do you keep fighting, secure even more territory or reduce the risk and stop now? “
The high definition footage captured by TB2 of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and soldiers eliminated by precise drone strikes may have already given Azerbaijan the perception of victory it needs.
“Even if you don’t succeed on the battlefield, you can show strikes, show your people and the international community, and say, ‘Look, we have a capable military, don’t mess with us,” he said to Lee.
“Nobody believes that this war can be extended for several months, and Azerbaijan is probably trying to” free “as much of the separatist regime as possible in order to resume peace negotiations,” said Fuad Shahbaz.
For now, however, the words of the Azerbaijani President offer the clearest indication of the country’s intentions.
“They will go to Khankendi (Stepanakert) and occupy the whole area again. This is the official statement from the President. The Jabrayil district was withdrawn. So it is quite likely that Azerbaijan can regain control of Khankendi and quickly change the situation in favor of itself. Azerbaijan has the financial and technical resources for this. You still have significant resources. “