The distant conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has already provided a sharp lesson on how future battles might be fought.
The war has been most visibly characterised by ‘kill cam’ footage of drones attacking armoured fighting vehicles, including main battle tanks, as well as unprotected infantry, with devastating effect.
It’s not widely understood in the West, but this conflict has the potential to escalate into a wider regional war, dragging Turkey and potentially Russia more overtly into the fighting.
The use of armed drones isn’t new, of course. Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) armed with Hellfire missiles were used extensively in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Australia is acquiring the armed MQ-9B Sky Guardian.
What’s different in the current conflict in the Caucasus is the use of low-cost ‘loitering munition’ systems bought from allies. Each drone costs far less than a crewed platform or a fully reusable UAV. In the future, rapid manufacturing technologies will allow them to be acquired at low cost and used in large swarms. That’s a potential game-changer for land warfare.
This has generated debate on whether expensive and technologically sophisticated armored vehicles can survive in future battles against masses of cheap ‘suicide drones’. Is the tank, which first emerged on the battlefields of the Western Front in 1917, now approaching the twilight years of its military utility?
With Australia’s purchase of new armoured vehicles under the LAND 400 program underway, the likelihood of large numbers of low-cost drones operating over the future battlespace should be a concern for defence planners. (end of excerpt)
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