Azerbaijan Kills Armenian Troops With a Suicide Drone
The deadly robot looks Israeli
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
An unnerving sight appeared Monday during fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. What appeared to be an Israeli-made suicide drone hit a bus carrying Armenian soldiers and then exploded.
There is an unconfirmed video appearing to show the strike, which killed seven Armenian volunteers according to RIA Novosti. And the drone captured in the video looks a lot like an IAI Harop — a canister-launched flying bomb which can detect the source of radio transmissions or be manually guided onto a target.
An Armenian Ministry of Defense spokesman alleged Azerbaijan is using Harop drones in the fighting.
If the footage is accurate, it’s a rare and alarming glimpse at one of the 21st century’s most significant trends in warfare — the increasing proliferation of lethal drones beyond the arsenals of advanced militaries. Small armies that do not have the resources to develop combat drones on their own can now buy them elsewhere, and send them on one-way missions in very real, very violent wars.
But it’s worth nothing that suicide drones are hardly new weapons (they go back to World War I). And arguably, there are only a few major differences between a remotely-piloted kamikaze drone — guided by an operator on the ground — and a cruise missile or precision-guided bomb.
Most large militaries have deadlier, faster and longer-range precision weapons than suicide drones. One distinction is that the Harop’s payload is smaller — it weights 51 pounds — and they cost much less than most precision-guided missiles when factoring in the cost for the aircraft needed to carry them. A Harop, on the other hand, simply carries itself and loiters above the battlefield, ready to plunge onto a target.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought sporadically for Nagorno-Karabakh since a brutal war in the early 1990s. Both countries are former Soviet republics, and when the Soviet Union cracked up, Christian Armenians in the region broke away from predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan.
The current fighting may be the worst since the 1990s. Armenian Pres. Serzh Sarksyan said the clashes could escalate to “full-scale war.”
Russia has a military base in Armenia and is a close ally, but has also supplied tanks to Azerbaijan, making the Kremlin an arms dealer for two states which have hoarded weapons to fight … each other.
Israel is another player, which sells drones and air-defense systems to Azerbaijan in exchange for Caspian oil and safe access for Israeli intelligence agents. And like Israel, the Azerbaijani government is wary of Iran. Then there’s the fact that Israel has positioned itself as a source for advanced drones on par with the best Western versions — but more affordable for poorer countries. It has another suicide drone known as the Harpy.
“Israel has taken the same capital, technology-intensive route to drone development as the United States, producing UAVs that fill key roles within a broader surveillance-strike complex,” The National Interest noted in 2015.
Emphasis on strike. Israeli drones are designed for patrolling vulnerable borders and fighting quick, sporadic wars that occur every few years. Turns out, Azerbaijan too has borders to protect and fights short wars every couple of years. What’s far more foreboding is that both it and Armenia have been gearing up to fight a bigger one.