July 25, 2021

Drone Warfare, Act II: The Threat of Swarms

It is a new phenomenon, a symptom of hybrid conflicts, which has taken by surprise and worries many armies around the world. Specialists refer to it as a “salvo” of drones, or a “swarm”. We could speak of a “cloud”. It is in reality the hijacking of unmanned vehicles of any size, until then mainly used for intelligence missions or targeted strikes, for the purpose of grouped, armed or even suicide bombers. An act II of the drone war, which has been repeated for two years in several theaters of confrontation and generates a discreet race against the time of the staffs – including in France – to face it.

This new tactical deal had been germinating for several years. But this reality took on a particular acuteness when these methods were observed during the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, which opposed Armenia to Azerbaijan in the fall of 2020. The fear that this scenario would recur elsewhere notably led to the France to consider this eventuality as an operational emergency for the army and special forces, considered vulnerable. The fight against drone was thus included in the rank of the priorities of the revision of the military programming law 2019-2025, presented to Parliament on June 22 and 23.

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Unlike other conflicts, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh saw massive use of drones, combined with fire from surface-to-surface missiles and artillery shells. They have sometimes even been diverted in the form of suicide devices called “marauding munitions”. The whole constituting salvos with devastating effects. The phenomenon was unprecedented in the context of an interstate conflict, opposing third-tier armies. The Azerbaijanis have proven in passing their mastery of these techniques, and this in network operations (exploiting military computer networks) which were until then the prerogative of Westerners. The Armenians paid a heavy price for these swarms of buzzing machines with unpredictable trajectories, directed against their positions.

In the paraphernalia of “poor armies”

“Before the conflict, the Azerbaijani army had already achieved a good mastery of drones, because it had been trained by Israel and Turkey, two powers at the forefront of this technology”, decrypts Jean-Jacques Patry, project manager at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS). “But, what gave the superiority to the Azerbaijanis during this war, it is the use of the whole range of drones: from the tactical device in support of artillery strikes and to the troops on the ground, to the flying machines. at high and medium altitude to carry out reconnaissance missions as part of a real joint campaign ”, specifies the researcher.

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