Missiles, rockets and drones define Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict
Much of what has taken place in seven days of fighting in the Caucasus is not known because of the fog of war.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
As conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia entered its seventh day on Saturday, there were concerns about escalation in the air and the use of longer-range missiles. This comes as reports increase about Azerbaijan’s use of Israeli drones and missiles as well as Turkish drones. The missile and drone war is important because Azerbaijan’s initial advances on the ground appeared to have stalled after several days; now both sides have brought up artillery and various rocket systems. Much of what has taken place in seven days of fighting in the Caucasus is not known because of the fog of war. However, hundreds of videos have appeared that confirm parts of the fighting. These include videos of casualties, destroyed tanks, drone and rocket attacks and artillery shelling. Gleb Bazov, a social media user who has followed the conflict closely, pointed out that the conflict so far has shown that a “Turkey-inspired strategy of ground assault, with attack UAV and reconnaissance drone support, has shown itself, as expected, to be a dismal failure. UAVs are still in their development infancy.”He notes that Azerbaijan has turned to using the multiple launch rocket system known as MLRS Smerch. It had been using the TOS-1 and Uragan, Soviet-era designs of mobile rocket launchers. The two systems borrow from the Russian use of rockets, such as the Katyushas, dating back to World War II. Think of these vehicles as a large truck or tank with a giant cigarette box on top, where instead of cigarettes, the box is packed with missiles. Whereas the TOS-1 has a range of several kilometers, the Smerch has a range up to 90 km. The Russians like these systems and export them. For instance, a video from September 25 shows Russian troops training with the 9K720 Iskandar-M short-range ballistic missile, the BM-30 MLRS Smerch and the S-300 air defense during Kavkaz drills that were held near Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).Video appears to have also shown Azerbaijan using the Israeli LORA missile developed by Israel Aerospace Industries. The LORA (Long Range Attack) weapon system was most recently tested in Israel in June when two long-range missiles were fired 90 km. and 400 km. with the test illustrating their precision. Azerbaijan showed off the LORA missile in 2018.Baku also showed off its Polonez long-range missile that was developed in Belarus and has a range of 200 km. The country also has the Turkish Kasirga rocket system with a range of 120 km.ARMENIA HAS accused Azerbaijan of using all these systems in recent fighting, according to Shushan Stepanyan, the spokesperson of Armenia’s Defense Ministry. Azerbaijan has also accused Armenia of using Tochka-U tactical missiles. Azerbaijan also said Armenia had used Smerch rockets as well. Armenia denied the accusations. Both sides say civilians have been killed in the shelling.Overall, Armenia claimed to have downed 107 Azerbaijan drones, 10 helicopters and five planes. It also said it had destroyed 205 armored vehicles and a Smerch launcher. Azerbaijan claimed that by October 3 it had destroyed 250 armored vehicles and an additional 130 military vehicles, as well as 250 Armenian artillery systems, 38 smaller air-defense systems and one S-300 air-defense system.This toll illustrates that Azerbaijan has been using many more drones than Armenia. A music video of Azerbaijan’s army showed four trucks with a total of 36 capsules for launching drones. Social media sources said the drones were Israeli Harop drones. Israeli companies have reportedly sold Azerbaijan many drones over the years, including the IAI Harpy and Harop loitering munition, the Elbit Skystriker and the Aeronautics Orbiter series. Azerbaijan has a modern arsenal using these munitions as well as Turkish Bayraktar drones.The war in Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan says it wants to liberate from Armenian control of a self-declared Armenian Artsakh republic, appears to be grinding down into a conflict of attrition. Many of the weapons and tactics have origins in the Soviet era. Rocket launchers and UAVs, as well as modern loitering munitions, have been shown to not be able to win the war decisively. Loitering munitions are drones that have a warhead and act more like a cruise missile, except they can “loiter” over a target and wait for an opportunity.It is unclear if one of the sides can get its arsenal in order to make a push forward in the coming days. Supplies appear to continue to pour into both sides – and major powers, such as Turkey and Russia, have an interest in not having one side lose. This is also important because the weapon systems being used are being watched all over the world to see which are successful and how they perform.