The destruction unleashed by armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) of Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia last year has brought these systems to the centre-stage of the security arena. The earliest demonstration of UAV capability was by Israel during the Bekaa Valley conflict with Syria in 1982.
Unmanned drones launched by Israel had activated Syrian radars, thereby giving away their locations and Israeli fighter aircraft subsequently destroying them. Syrian aircraft that gave fight were blinded by electronic jamming. The result was the loss of 82 Syrian fighters as against a single Israeli aircraft.
In the South Caucasian conflict, Azerbaijan started with a similar feint, using an old AN-2 aircraft converted into a drone as bait for the Armenians. A report by the Washington-based think tank, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), states that Armenia lost 26 surface-to-air missile systems, including a Tor and five S-300 systems, besides hundreds of tanks and vehicles.
Azerbaijanian videos showed UAV strikes on bewildered Armenian soldiers on the ground. The psychological impact was overwhelming and Armenia settled for peace on humiliating terms. This was perhaps the first time UAVs had helped a country defeat conventional enemy forces and armour.
There are crucial takeaways from the conflict for India. First, small forces/ nations can develop asymmetric advantage with low-cost UAVs. Azerbaijan had the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 armed UAVs and Israeli loitering ‘suicide drones’ (which identify and destroy targets by impact).