Ever since Washington’s war on terror, drones have become increasingly important in modern warfare. Powerful actors are investing in drone technology and using it on the battlefield.
Europe, however, has a lot of ground to make up.
Turkey’s Growing Drone Power
More and more modern weapons are used in the conflict zones surrounding Europe. Turkey, in particular, has made giant leaps in offensive and defensive drone technology.
Ankara’s surging drone power was seen recently in Nagorno-Karabakh, during Azerbaijan’s war against Armenia. Azerbaijan benefited enormously from its strategic military partnership with Turkey. Armenian armed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh were suppressed in their trenches by the enemy’s superior drone technology and were forced to depend on classic approaches such as tank warfare. Armenian tanks were easy targets, and, accordingly, 185 were lost.
In addition, multi-purpose aircraft from Soviet production were converted to fly over Armenian positions at low altitude by remote control. Their positional data was registered by other drones at a higher altitude and switched off Armenian air defenses.
Drone Dominance Let Azerbaijan Outpace and Outgun Armenia
With their outdated anti-aircraft systems, the Armenian armed forces were unable to detect the drones and shoot them down. Azerbaijani armed forces thus cut off Armenian reserves from the battlefield, while they were able to keep their losses low even without direct contact with the enemy.
While the Armenians could not increase their forces, the numerically superior Azerbaijanis could always determine the fighting time and place.
Exhaustion and especially kamikaze drones had a demoralizing effect on the Armenians. Nagorno-Karabakh President Araik Harutjunjan said shortly after the fighting ended that some volunteer fighters and reservists had fled the fighting area, while various Armenian special forces soldiers refused to fight at the front.
Russia’s Development of Drone Warfare
As the protective power linked to Armenia, Russia eventually intervened on the side of its ally. Russian drones were used for reconnaissance purposes for Armenian artillery systems and by Krasukha-4 jamming systems to shoot down enemy drones from Azerbaijan.
Russia’s armed forces have ample experience of drone attacks at the Hamaimim airbase in Syria, as swarms of armed drones have attacked them there in the past. In fact, Russia is currently presumably superior to the Turks in the field of electronic warfare.
However, in Armenia and Syria, Russia only protects its own troops and bases with its own air defense systems and jammers, while its allies have to be content with inferior export versions of the systems.
Europe Lags Far Behind in Drone Combat Readiness
Meanwhile, European states would be highly vulnerable and struggle against these aforementioned technologies. For instance, the air defense systems of Poland or France’s armed forces are only designed to resist aircraft assault. Small attack drones would easily slip through the surveillance systems and overcome current defensive measures in massive number. Electronic disruptive measures could also blind the defensive systems.
Air defense and electronic warfare have even been phased out in many European countries in recent years. In many places, there are hardly any mechanisms at all to disrupt military communication and objects in flight.
Europe Isn’t Ready to Fight – Especially in Electronic Warfare
Smaller European armies are even lacking core capabilities such as anti-tank weapons and artillery. For instance, Germany’s Bundeswehr has only a few very short-range drone jammers and anti-aircraft cannons with programmable ammunition and it cannot protect mobile units due to severely outdated systems.
It is no wonder that many military experts assess European armed forces as almost defenseless against attacks in the immediate area.
For the majority of European countries, it once again appears as if defense equipment continues to be an afterthought, particularly when it comes to modern technology.
Meanwhile, other nations like Turkey are surging ahead. Modern drone technology is also spreading in many conflict areas because drones are useful for arms trafficking. For example, Turkey routinely breaks the UN arms embargo on Libya by escorting freighters to Libyan shores with its warships using drone guidance.
In an environment where more and more actors are actively modernizing their weapons arsenals constantly and innovating in electronic warfare, Europe needs to at least find its way towards parity and defensive readiness.