Lessons learned from the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict trickled into the public over the past two months or so, and the picture that formed is one in which electronic warfare (mostly sensing a.k.a. radio direction finding and data processing) and remotely-controlled drones were key assets for Azerbaijan to overcome the Armenian military defence of Nagorno-Karabagh in weeks. Armenia was very heavily armed (and armoured) by the metrics of the 1980's.



(hat tip to anonymous commenter)

and now a funny-sounding video:

The two apparently most important drone types (aside from decoys) were the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2, which served in an aerial artillery observer role akin to what was done with light manned aircraft in WW2 and the Israeli IAI Harop, which served as a loitering drone used to search, find and then kamikaze a high value target.

BTW, I believe that the original Harpy (predecessor of Harop) drone was somehow an offspring from a cancelled German kamikaze drone program of the 1980's. I don't accurately remember the designation of it (K-DAR? Kampfdrone Anti-Radar?), but by the looks of it the Israelis either developed something nearly identical-looking by form follows function or they just swapped out the electronics package, which they seem to do a lot when they adopt foreign airframes. 

We have a silly public debate about armed drones in Germany in which the government pretends that it's about Reaper-style observation drones getting munitions to drop, when the topic really should be about such kamikaze drones and especially about autonomous drones. So far the government doesn't introduce armed drones. I suppose the debate is silly because we shouldn't debate whether or not we should play the virtuous ones who don't have such dirty weapons. We should discuss how to keep Pandora's autonomous drones box closed just as NBC munitions have been kept in check pretty well for generations. Pandora's box of kamikaze drones and munitions-dropping drones was already opened in the Second World War and is most unlikely to get closed. I'm not even sure whether it would be a good thing to get rid of kamikaze drones or armed observation drones, for these are a lot more usable for small powers facing hostile air superiority than are manned observation air vehicles. To suppress arms that benefit the weak against the great powers does not look like a good cause to me.

Back to the lessons learned; the obvious counter to remotely controlled drones that need to transmit a video feed (high bandwidth!) or at least series of photos and to receive commands (very low bandwidth) to be of much use is to jam the radio link. Radio physics is tricky, but I still suppose that (radio) line of sight between emitter and receiver is de facto necessary. You can't do everything with the freaky short wave frequencies.

To jam this air-ground link from the ground may sometimes be possible (high mast in very flat terrain or jammer on mountains), but more regularly you'd want to have an airborne jamming emitter. The American way of Warfare would be to pick some huge Boeing or USD 100+ million combat aircraft, and equip it with powerful standoff jammers. 

The German army (or some suppliers, I'm not sure about this) pursued a different concept in the 1990's, and I meant to write about this on basis of an ancient journal article (Soldat und Technik 1/1997) for a very, very long time. The concept was meant to make use of the terribly troubled Brevel observation drone project's airframe and equip it with electronics and antennas to become an airborne RF jammer in at leat the 200...500 MHz band. It was called "Mücke" (midge). (Our principal ground-based jammers Hornisse and Hummel only covered the 1.5...30 MHz and 20...80 MHz frequencies in 1996).

The Mücke project / proposal is so elusive that even secretprojects.co.uk doesn't have a thread about it. It did look (in the article's illustration) 99% like KZO Brevel, just with two stick antennas.

Mücke didn't seem like a good idea at the time, and the German army instead invested in replacing the electronics in our bulletproof 6x6 RF jamming vehicles with something that did not belong into a museum. This was likely much cheaper. Mücke was (according to the article) not really meant to disrupt radio comm between hostile airborne vehicles and ground stations, but to jam general radio comms up to 100 km 'deep' (you know, as if there was some front-line), something that you cannot really do with land vehicle-mounted jammers (except freaky shortwave, which makes RF physics such a mess). The proposal to give every division only 12 drones was a stupid non-starter in face of opposing air defences and fighters.

Mücke would not need to loiter over hostile-controlled ground with the different mission of messing with the video upload of kamikaze and observation drones. The airborne RF jamming drone may finally have a good reason to exist.


  1. Azerbaijan significantly outspent Armenia in preparation of the conflict. Some Armenian systems might have performed better if they had been upgraded with electro-optics. Would Azerbaijan have performed equally well if they invested into means other than drones?

    I get that drones significantly improve capabilities against conventional enemies, but winning this conflict also had a component to avoid fighting a guerilla war thru at least threatened ethnic cleansing of the disputed territory. Will measures against the civilian population become more widely accepted?

  2. The war in Armenia shows that regional wars between regional powers can be fought more efficiently, political cost, cash and manpower.

    Dont know what difference that makes to EU/RUS.

    Changes to equipment and doctrine could be made now, but it seems as though the current balance of power (between drones/conventional forces) is changing quickly and some of the potential near futures would invalidate those reforms.

    Terrorism might catch the drift though. Some of that terrorism might be state sponsored, shock, horror.