Drones aren’t be-all & end-all of air warfare

By Tribune India

International social and electronic media — and, by extension, our own media outlets — have gone to town regarding the successes achieved by Azerbaijanis on the Nagorno-Karabakh battlefield, employing armed ‘kamikaze’ Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the Bayraktar TB2 and Harpy/Harop and Orbiter 1K made by Israel Aircraft Industries.

They are also known to have employed a Russian conventional aircraft’s converted-to-drone adaptation such as the AN-2, as also other Israeli drones, such as Hermes, Heron and Skystriker.

The Bayraktar is known to be an American Predator/Reaper copy and the Turks have, statedly, used them extensively earlier in Syria and Libya. The Armenians have a much smaller drone fleet, comprising models such as homegrown Krunk, Baze and Ptero-5.

Most of these drones were initially designed for reconnaissance and surveillance and adapted later for suicide missions. Also, the limited size of the Caucasian battlefield in question lent itself to such kamikaze missions by drones.

Anywhere else, with an effective air defence orbit existing, such low-speed aerial platforms would be swatted off the sky, like flies. It is believed that the Azerbaijani TB2s were operated by Turkish military personnel, including for data linking to ground stations and for weapon delivery or suicide attacks.

Both the belligerents were devoid of regular sizeable air forces. Armenia has around 18 Russian Sukhoi-25 ground attack aircraft, MiG-29 and a few Mi-24 attack helicopters and some L-39 trainers. Azerbaijani air assets include about 30 MiG-21/SU-27/ SU-24 of Russian origin and sundry Mi-24 attack helicopters and L-39 trainers.

Some Turkish F-16s are known to have been seen over the Azerbaijani skies, including possibly one that downed an Armenian SU-25 Frogfoot a while ago.

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