Lessons for India about drone warfare in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

Few thoughts over so much “analysis” of Armenia-Azerbaijan war, effect of drones on modern warfare & how it figures in Indian context.

First, Armenia which was on receiving end:

Turkish TB-2. One of few drones used by Azerbaijan

1. Armenia had only ancient Soviet era defense systems  Strela, Buk & Osa, that too in very small numbers spread over a very large area. Their air defense and battlefield radar surveillance capability was virtually non-existent.

 2. Even Amrenian S-300 PM were 35 years old and were designed for defence against cruise missiles & aircraft. This old tech can’t engage more than a handful of targets at a time and was never designed for defence against small drones. Even most modern defence systems are vulnerable to saturation attacks that Azeris did.

S-300PM-2 Favorit chứng minh không thể bị gây nhiễu điện ...

3. One of the strongest AD against drones is Electronic Warfare and Jamming. Low tech drones with limited LOS used by Azeris can be jammed fairly easily. Yet Armenians lacked even this basic EW warfare capability.

4. Almost all of Azeri hits were on isolated Armenian targets which had low to nil AD cover. 

5. Only aircraft which can shootdown drones in  Armenian Air Force are 4 Su-30SM and 15 Mi-24.  Total of 4 jets and 15 old helicopters is not even barely enough,

6. Only comparatively strong air defence systems that drones have been able to penetrate successfully in last few years is Saudi. There, it was mostly due to incompetence and unpreparedness.

Now about India. 

India sure lacks cheap attack drones in large numbers. Yet it doesn’t mean that we need to start panicking and start cycle of emergency purchases. For one, India has a fairly robust defense system and second, drones are not the unstoppable wonder weapons that many people think they are.

1. Indian troops are using cheap drones for surveillance for many years now on LoC and LAC. Just go through news reports of drone shootdowns in the region. Majority of these drones can be brought down by machine gun fire. A vast majority of cheap drones rely on navigation line of sight which is more often than not a luxury in mountainous borders.

2. Most of these quadcopter type drones are virtually unusable in high altitude areas due to thin air, cold and strong winds.

3. India is already using multiple advanced Indian, Israeli and now American drones including a few armed ones like Harpy for many years. DRDO and private sector are involved in R&D and production of different types of such drones.

4. Unlike Armenians, Indian AD systems include multiple layers of radars, EW systems, guns and SHOARDS like AD guns, shoulder launched missiles and supported by their long ranged counterparts. Even Indian navy has more combat enabled aircraft than few countries like Armenia combined. Some dedicated anti-drone systems have already been deployed like Ashlesha, Bharani radars and a yet unnamed portable anti-drone system by DRDO. 

DRDO's anti-drone defense system
DRDO’s anti-drone defense system

In nutshell:

  1. Are drones a serious threat? Yes. But not as much as they are to weak countries like Armenia or incompetent types like Saudi Arabia.
  2. Are we doing anything about increasing our defensive & offensive capabilities wrt drones? Yes.

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