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SouthFront publishes translation of an interview with a senior official of Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), one of the few Russian think tanks that declare their formal independence emulating their Western counterparts. In doing so, CAST regularly states that it fills orders of Russian official institutions. A number of its studies are accompanied by comments of the Defense Minister and the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation. In that light, the following interview is of particular interest for military specialists, as well as for a wide audience.
The recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh, its course and results are being actively discussed all over the world, including in Russia. The Azerbaijani victory over Armenia is often interpreted as the de facto victory of Turkish weaponry over the Russian one. Russia is often treated as a losing party. Are such claims true? Is the Nagorno-Karabakh war a sign for Russian defense industry? Why does not Russia have strike drones? All these question Russian outlet “Moskovsky Komsomolets” asked to Konstantin Makienko, analyst, Deputy Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
– Has Turkey increased its military presence in Azerbaijan as a result of this war?
It is quite obvious that the Turkish presence in Azerbaijan has dramatically increased following the Nagorno-Karabakh war. It is important that not only physical presence, but also Ankara’s influence has grown up. Moreover, Turkish prestige and influence will have an impact not only in the South Caucasus, but also in Central Asia and the North Caucasus, in the Volga region. It is important to understand that military presence and growing influence are not identical concepts.
The military component is only a part of overall power. Turkey has increased both its military presence and influence. At the same time, Russia has only increased its presence. However, as a result of the efficient diplomatic and military work, Russia got a trump card – the keys to Karabakh, which has actually become its protectorate and are held in Moscow now. In general, it seems that Russian diplomacy is highly effective in crises, seeking the maximum possible even under adverse circumstances. This does not negate the fact that after the USSR collapse, Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space is gradually weakening.
– Everyone is talking about the Turkish victory in this war…
– First of all, it was Azerbaijani victory, convincingly and indisputably. Baku won in military terms, as well as politically, diplomatically, and in informational aspects. Azerbaijani networks of influence and lobbyists worked better, including in Moscow. The famous Armenian diaspora turned out to be much less effective. However, Turkish participation was very significant or even decisive.
Apparently, the offensive was planned by the Turkish headquarters. Turkish officers provided support both at the headquarters level and directly on the battlefield. It is highly likely that Turkish advisers were present in battle formations at the battalion level and above, even at the company level.
Turkish aviation jammed Armenian radio communications. However, in general, this is a victory of Baku, which has more resources – demographic, oil, gas – and has managed to use these resources rationally.
– Russia has oil and gas resources, too. If hypothetically China would be Russia’s ally in an armed conflict, then they should possess a great power.
– Yes, but it would not be a conflict between the third world countries but a world war. I hope this is not relevant yet. Talking about the Nagorno-Karabakh war, the main conclusion for Russia lies on the surface: the maintenance and equipment of a combat-ready army provides a valuable resource that can be used at the right time to achieve important political goals. A powerful and efficient military is a categorical imperative for a modern state.
– It sounds like a rebuff to Russian “democrats” who accuse the authorities of excessive militarization. Russia did not invest in the creation of attack drones, so now not only the United States, but even Israel and Turkey have overtaken Moscow. Now the Turks are selling their drones to both Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
– Yes, in technical terms, the Karabakh war demonstrated further war evolution towards the precision-guided weapon as the main mean of destruction. It has become available for mass use not only in developed countries, but also in the third world.
– Probably, because they are cheaper than traditional weapons systems?
– In fact, the use of high-precision weapons in terms of the cost-effectiveness ratio has become more economical than the mass use of unguided ammunition. In addition, modern technologies make it possible to miniaturize high-precision weapons, thereby making them even cheaper.
– Do you mean that wars with their use will become cheaper? Thus, the danger is that the cheaper war is the more people want to fight.
– This tendency can also be traced. We are entering an era of endless small military conflicts all over the world. In the future, we can face the complete die-back of unguided weapons from ground artillery-missiles to aviation, as it has de facto happened in the West.
– Did the war in Nagorno-Karabakh show the increased importance of armed drones?
– Of course. Unmanned aircraft are useful as another way to reduce the cost of precision weapons and to increase their proliferation.
Azerbaijan and Turkey were able to establish effective air supremacy in the area with a relatively small squad of UAVs, which carried small-sized high-precision weapons – small guided missiles and guided aerial bombs.
The use of manned combat aircraft with similar weapons would theoretically give the same effect. However, it would require much more resources and costs. Drones are not only cheaper to purchase and operate than manned combat aircraft, but they are also expendable.
– When losing a drone, the military does not lose a pilot – a specialist, whose training is very expensive.
– Sure. The loss of a drone is both politically and psychologically insensitive. At the same time, due to their smaller size and technical characteristics, drones are a more difficult target for air defense systems than manned combat aircraft.
Loitering munitions that are de facto disposable “kamikaze drones” clearly demonstrate this fact. They represent a good example of cheap and covert high-precision weapons. This explains their rapid spread.
– UAVs also made a breakthrough in reconnaissance and target designation…
– That’s it. And this is the second important reason of their mass distribution. The possibility of a long constant presence of the reconnaissance UAV over the battlefield dramatically changed the warfare. Even at the current level of modern technologies, this makes possible to organize combat control, target designation and strike the enemy in almost real time.
But the main thing – I draw your attention to this fact – during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, UAVs have become something more important than a means of reconnaissance, target designation and carriers of high-precision weapons. In this war, air supremacy was established with their help for the first time ever.
– So why did the Russian army, in contrast to the Turkish or Israeli, lag behind in this segment?
– The lag of the Russian Armed Forces in the implementation and development of unmanned technologies is not caused by technological reasons, but is a consequence of the wrong development priorities.
– Exactly! I remember very well how 15-20 years ago at a press conference I asked the Air Force Commander: why are we lagging behind in the development of UAVs and, in particular, in the creation of strike drones. To which he answered absolutely seriously: why do we need them? We have enough planes and pilots.
– Exactly. Such a point of view prevailed in our country for a very long time. There were defects in the Soviet prospects determining system in the techno-military sphere that were not eliminated for a long time.
– And then the army leadership was assumed by people whose activities led to the fact that we no longer had enough pilots or planes. Serdyukov stopped admission to aviation schools. There were fewer pilots, but there were no more attack drones. The General Staff were arguing: who should take UAVs command – pilots or land forces? Who needs them more? And it turned out that nobody needed them.
– Yes, the UAVs development programs were not considered to be a priority in research and development work of the Ministry of Defense. And this was a very important reason of our lagging behind. We are still reaping the fruits of that policy. There are still no centralized inter-service management bodies for such programs, including the creation of systems that are necessary for UAVs’ development (engines, optoelectronic systems, and control systems), no proper political and administrative support, and no purposeful policy to create competence centers in this area.
The UAVs creation programs are left on their own fate and to the mercy of industrial organizations, sometimes rather weak. As a result, we only have a lot of light small devices made with extensive use of imported components.
– But the use of imported components in military equipment for the Russian army is prohibited. So there is still a problem with attack drones?
– To date, there are no strike drones in Russia yet. The development of reconnaissance UAVs of a relatively high level is also a problem. For more than ten years now, design office “Luch” has been engaged in the refinement of a simple “Corsair”, which is at the sane technical level as the Israeli devices created in the 1980s. The creation of a heavy drone “Altair” in Kazan resulted in an endless dispute over the project and court cases.
– It’s a pity … Ten years ago, I visited Israel, one of the enterprises of the IAI concern, which above all is engaged in the UAVs production. What struck me most was that almost everyone who made these devices in Israel was from the USSR, spoke Russian well. It turns out that they were able to create the UAVs there, but not in Russia?
– In Russia, perhaps, real progress in this matter has been achieved by the “Kronstadt” (engineering company) in St. Petersburg which has finally managed to bring the mid-level device Orion to the Armed Forces this year. But you need to understand: in fact, this is an analogue of the American General Atomics Predator drone. And its serial production in the United States began in 1995, and it has been withdrawn from service a few years ago. That is, we are 20-25 years behind our American “partners” in this area.
– But now, especially after the Nagorno-Karabakh war, have we started to reduce this gap?
– In my opinion, there is no clear understanding in the domestic military-political circles that UAVs in combination with high-precision weapons offer a cheaper and more economical modern alternative of warfare. But the Americans have clearly understood this long ago. And now, after the Nagorno-Karabakh war, drawing on their experience of the Bayraktar TB2 using, the Turks have also understood this.
More insulting is that such a fairly simple reconnaissance and strike drone as the sensational Turkish Bayraktar TB2, made with widespread use of commercial imported components, could have been created in Russia ten years ago if there were the proper concentration of resources and political will.
Thus, perhaps in a typical soviet style, the drones’ demonstration in the Karabakh war will spur Russian unmanned programs. A peasant needs thunder to cross himself and wonder. There was the first thunderclap.
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