June 8, 2021, 03.00 PM
'Loitering munitions' saw action in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war 'Loitering munitions' saw action in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war

Watershed war

In late 2020, as the world was consumed by the pandemic, festering tensions in the Caucasus erupted into war.

It looked like a textbook regional conflict, with Azerbaijan and Armenia fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. But for those paying attention, this was a watershed in warfare.

"The really important aspect of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, in my view, was the use of these loitering munitions, so-called 'kamikaze drones' — these pretty autonomous systems," said Ulrike Franke, an expert on drone warfare at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Bombs that loiter in the air

Advanced loitering munitions models are capable of a high degree of autonomy. Once launched, they fly to a defined target area, where they "loiter," scanning for targets — typically air defense systems.

Once they detect a target, they fly into it, destroying it on impact with an onboard payload of explosives; hence the nickname "kamikaze drones."

"They also had been used in some way or form before — but here, they really showed their usefulness," Franke explained. "It was shown how difficult it is to fight against these systems."

Also read: Gas Explosion Injuries Two Foreigners in Bali, Indonesia

Research by the Center for Strategic and International Studies showed that Azerbaijan had a massive edge in loitering munitions, with more than 200 units of four sophisticated Israeli designs. Armenia had a single domestic model at its disposal.

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