Am 6. Oktober 2020 führte auch Armenien ein ganzes Arsenal erbeuteter oder zerstörter azerischer Waffen vor. Aufsehen erregten Drohnen-Trümmer, die Armenien als israelische Kamikaze-Waffen identifizierte. Diese Drohnen werden in kurzer Distanz zur Front gestartet, kreisen über dem Gefechtsfeld, suchen sich gegnerische Ziele aus, stürzen sich auf diese und zerstören sie.
- Armenien beschuldigt Aserbeidschan, schon am 29. September 2020 mit einer israelischen Kamikaze-Drohne bei der Ortschaft Valderis einen zivilen Bus zerstört und Passagiere getötet oder schwer verwundet zu haben. Dazu veröffentlicht die armenische Propaganda Bilder, die das Skelett des zerstören Fahrzeugs zeigen sollen.
- Auf dem Internet suchen Experten die armenische Meldung anhand von Fotos zu bestätigen. Wie der Name Kamikaze-Drohne belegt, kehren die Waffen nicht zurück. Bei ihrem Zerstörungswerk gehen sie selber in Trümmer, weshalb den Fachleuten die Identifikation schwer fällt.
- Für die armenische Darstellung spricht die Tatsache, dass Aserbeidschan von israelischen Rüstungsfirmen in den letzten Jahren ein reiches Drohnenarsenal erwarb. Schon 2016 schoss Armenien eine azerische ThunderB des israelischen Herstellers BlueBird Aero Systems ab. Die ThunderB ist allerdings keine Kamikaze-Drohne.
- Von den insgesamt acht Drohnen-Modellen, die Aserbeidschan in Israel erwarb, zählt SkyStryker von Elbit eindeutig zu den Killer-Drohnen. Insofern ist es technisch möglich, dass die Azeris im Karabach-Krieg auch ihre Kamikaze-Waffe zum Einsatz brachten. Schon am zweiten Kriegstag gaben sie Bilder frei, die den Abschuss eines armenischen T-72 durch eine Kampfdrohne zeigen.
SkyStryker von Elbit
Als Elbit im Jahr 2017 in Le Bourget SkyStryker präsentierte, schrieb der amerikanische Dienst DefPost:
- “Elbit Systems has launched SkyStriker remotely operated, electro-optical, precise guided loitering munition at Paris Air Show 2017 in Le Bourget. It is designed to seek, locate and engage various tactical level targets.
- The electric propulsion of SkyStriker provides a low acoustic signature and enables covert low altitude operations. Due to its high flight speed capability, it can reach a distance of tens of kilometers within minutes. It can loiter and follow the target for up to 2 hours upon reaching the target area.
- SkyStriker, weighing 35 kg, offers quick deployment and ease of operation in the field, provides forces with the ability to observe and identify an enemy target before delivering a rapid precision airstrike. Its remote operation capability reduces operators’ exposure to detection or enemy fire.
- The system has high accuracy, long range and a long loitering time. The SkyStriker has a payload of 10 kg. Moreover, SkyStriker enables the operator to abort a strike up to 2s to impact, to re-engage and in case of lack of authorized targets to order a safe return home.
- Another Israeli manufacturer, Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) have already developed and delivered the Harpy, Harop and Green Dragon loitering munitions which is operated by various countries.”
“The Armenian Ministry of Defense showed off some of the Azerbaijani UAVs and loitering munitions that crashed or were downed during the conflict including the Israeli-made ThunderB, Orbiter 3 and SkyStriker,” he wrote Tuesday. The photos seem to show that several intact drones were captured, and numerous pieces of drones, perhaps after being shot down, were found.
But there is a problem with Armenia’s display. It appears some of the drones have been used before in various displays dating back to 2016 and 2012. In the murky world of drone sales and claims of shoot-downs, it may be that the supposed upending of Azerbaijan’s drone force was not all it appears.
Let’s start with what we know. The most recent edition of the Drone Databook that was compiled by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone says Azerbaijan has eight different types of drones, all acquired from Israel. These include the Aerostar, Orbiter 1K and Orbiter 3 from Aeronautics.
The Orbiter 1K is what is known as a “loitering munition,” or kamikaze drone. The drone behaves like a drone, hovering around, until it finds a target and then slams into it like a cruise missile. In February 2019, Aeronautics reportedly completed new sales to Azerbaijan. The country has a hunger for Israeli kamikaze-style drones. The Washington Post reported in 2016 that it used an IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) Harop against Armenians as well. Armenia has complained about the 2016 incident.
According to the Drone Databook, the Harop arrived in Azerbaijan in 2011 along with others purchased by Baku. These included the Elbit Systems Hermes 450 and Orbiter 1K acquired the same year. That means that as far back as 2011, Azerbaijan was trying to revolutionize its drone arsenal.
Using drones in targeted killings or armed attacks is a relatively new phenomenon. The US rapidly increased its use of armed drones during the global war on terrorism. By 2011, only a handful of countries had armed drones, and small Azerbaijan was one of them. By 2016, the country had acquired the Orbiter 3 and the large Heron TP for surveillance. In 2018, it also procured Israel’s Hermes 900 and SkyStriker, according to the book. The SkyStriker sale, reported in January 2019 by the Azeri Defence website, took Baku’s drone arsenal to the next level.
The Drone Databook provides only a snapshot of the number of drones Azerbaijan has acquired. It claims the country has 100 SkyStrikers and 50 Harops, while it had a handful of larger surveillance drones like the Hermes 900 and 450. Azerbaijan also acquired licenses to make two types of Aeronautics drones locally through its Azad Systems.
This means the overall amount cannot be determined. Some of them were also lost in battle. Armenian forces claimed to have downed at least 22 by 2018. Now that list is apparently larger.
Elbit Systems says in an online document that the SkyStriker can hover over a target for up to two hours with a 5-kg. warhead and has a range of 20 km. Flight Global says the Orbiter 1K can fly for several hours with a small 1- to 2-kg. warhead. The Harop, by contrast, can fly much further with a warhead of around 15 kg.
Armenian sources have published numerous photos online since July 12, showing what they claim are downed Israeli drones. A SkyStriker was shown upside down in the dirt on July 20, and another alleged SkyStriker was shown with two men posing next to it on July 17. An Orbiter 3 was found in a grassy field on July 18.
Drone footage was used by both sides, but Azerbaijan’s drone footage is much clearer than Armenia’s. Armenia uses locally made drones and doesn’t appear to have the same level of technology as Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan says it shot down at least one Armenian drone on July 16.
According to Lee’s analysis of Azerbaijani videos of attacks on Armenian targets, there are other Israeli weapons being used. A July 15 video appears to show a SPIKE NLOS from Israel’s Rafael, he wrote. He has identified several videos that may be from NLOS missiles. Most of these strikes were on July 15. Azerbaijan’s use of the SPIKE family of missiles dates back to at least 2016, when Azeri media reported its use.
Rafael makes a large number of SPIKE missiles that are used by 33 countries. It says 30,000 missiles have been sold and 5,000 fired, but it does not reveal details about all customers and does not comment on Azerbaijan. The NLOS has a range of 30 km. and is a non-line-of-sight missile. Rafael also makes the SPIKE ER2, or extended-range missile, which has a range of 10 km.
The outcome of the clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia have not been decisive, but tensions appear to be rising. Both Russia and Turkey are now playing a role, as well as Iran, which has offered to mediate. These large countries all are involved in discussions about Syria as well. That means the conflict in the Caucuses could have larger implications. Turkey has said it wants to supply Azerbaijan with more weapons, including its own Bayraktar drones. Russia could replenish Armenia’s arms.
Israel has found itself in the middle of controversy over Caucuses conflicts before. Pro-Russian groups in Georgia, backed by Russian MiG-29s, shot down Israeli-made Hermes 450 drones, according to a UN report in 2008.
Russia learned from Georgia’s use of drones that it needed more drones of its own and purchased 10 IAI Searcher MK II drones in 2015, eventually manufacturing them as its own “Forpost” UAV, according to Russian media. Defense24 media reported in 2016 that Russia would stop producing the drones with an Israeli license due to US pressure.
But Russia appears to have kept making drones anyway, some based on Israeli models. In 2019, Russian media reported that Russia would stop using the former Israeli payloads, basically the optics, and use its own.
Israel’s influence over the use of drones in conflicts is massive, dating back to the 1970s. It now appears to overshadow the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The question social-media analysts are asking is whether Armenia is telling the whole story about drones it allegedly shot down or that crashed and whether the Israeli drones are successful.
Drones crash for numerous reasons, and loitering munitions are supposed to crash as part of their target sequence; they may even be redirected at the last minute if a target changes for some reason. Drones also malfunction for other reasons, such as losing communications. Drones can be shot down, but air-defense systems have found it increasingly complex to shoot down smaller and slower drones.
While a variety of systems exist to shoot them down, it’s not clear if Armenia has these systems. Some claims of drones being shot down also appear, on closer inspection, to be largely mythical stories. For instance, in Libya, dozens of drone shoot-downs have been claimed, whereas the overall number, according to Drone Wars UK, is only around 14 during the months o