Armenians Are Losing the War in Karabakh Because Their Air Defenses Can Not Handle Slow-Flying Drones

Hindsight is 20/20 but turns out it was a big mistake not to have had modern drone-killing systems in place

An Armenian 9K33 Osa (Russian for “wasp”) destroyed by Azeri drone

Editor’s note: Armenian anti-aircraft defenses are not particularly modern or potent, but they are perfectly adequate to keep at bay the modest Azeri airforce, which can field only two squadrons of Su-25 ground-attack jets, a squadron of MiG-29 fighters, and two squadrons of Mi-24 attack helicopters.

However, the problem for the Armenian side is that the Azeris are instead relying on slow-flying drones that Armenian anti-aircraft systems are ill-equipped to handle, having been developed before the advent of drones and with different roles and capabilities in mind.

The impression that one gets is that the Armenian side would benefit immensely by an urgent transfer of heaps of anti-drone systems (and training).

Machine translated from Serbian. Excerpted from a much longer analysis here by a Serbian air defense vet.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, kamikaze drones and reconnaissance aircraft, fly at speeds ranging from just over 100 km/h to 250-300 km/h. These speeds are very problematic for tracking in air defense radar systems. Namely, there is no big difference in the air defense systems in terms of whether they are “newer” or “older”, the problem is present in almost everyone.

Thus, the air defense systems “S-300PT” and “S-300PS” cannot, with their radars for tracking targets and guiding missiles, track targets that fly slower than 50 m/s and about 180 km/h, respectively. The same applies to the air defense system “S-125M1 Neva”. In the case of the air defense system “9K37 BukM1-2”, “2K12 Kub and 2K11 Krug”, that limit varies between 50-60 m/s, which means from 180-216 km/h. This practically means that these air defense systems will practically not be able to react effectively against an unmanned reconnaissance or attack aircraft, if it flies at speeds below 50 or 60 m/s.

There is also the question of altitude.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the Bayraktar TB2, can fly at altitudes of over 7,000 meters, which is enough to “exceed” the battery monitoring radar of the “2K12 Kub” system, even when and if the aircraft flies slightly faster than 60 m/s, so in addition to low flight speed, altitude may be a problem here.

The exception is the air defense system “9K33 Osa-AK/AKM” which should be the “right” solution to these problems. The system has a very solid observation radar that can detect very low-flying targets, but also floating targets. In that sense, there is no problem with low flight speed. The problem here is a limited observation height of only 5 km, but also the fact that slow targets flying at speeds below 100 m/s (360 km/h) can be detected at distances less than 6.4 km. In this sense, this is a problem, when attackers are aircraft that fly slower than 100 m/s at altitudes over 5 km, or at altitudes up to 5 km, but at distances over 6.4 km and which can operate laser-guided missiles from distances up to 8000 m (Bayraktar TB2). Also, a certain “internality” of the radar system, which is quite complex, but also single-channel in purpose, showed in this conflict that the air defense system “9K33 Axis AK/AKM” is not able to cope with these challenges of drones and was a frequent victim of unmanned aerial vehicles and kamikaze drones, although it had some success in shooting them down.

Certainly, the best solution for the drone problem would be the “Tor M2KM” system, but the problem here is that Armenia simply does not have enough of these systems, and considering that they were only delivered in the beginning of the year, the level of crew training is also a question.

The system is very atypical. Namely, it is a “container system” that is delivered without an accompanying vehicle or semi-trailer, and can therefore be placed on the supporting structure of a wheeled or tracked vehicle of any suitable type (load capacity above all), as well as on a semi-trailer. The “container” can also be placed on warships. The Armenian army decided that the carrier would be a KAMAZ-63501 8 × 8 truck, a priest.

The Tor-M2KM system can use 9M331 and 9M332 projectiles. The launch vehicle with radar system consists of an observation-acquisition radar with a range of up to 25 km, a target tracking radar and guidance missiles with a range of up to 20 km, an electro-optical tracking system and 8 ZV “9M331” or 9M332 “missiles housed in 2 containers with 4 rockets. The maximum range in distance is up to 16 km, and in height up to 10 km.
The system has very few restrictions on its use for action against drones, low-flying helicopters and piston planes, and it can be said that this system is in fact the right solution to this problem that the Armenians had in the first days of the war. The only question is how many of these systems are available and what is the current status in terms of technical equipment and staff training.

The next issue concerns the angles of attack at which unmanned aerial vehicles, primarily kamikaze drones of the “IAI Harop” type, but also quasi-ballistic missiles “Lora” can attack targets, including air defense systems (especially stationary or semi-mobile).

Kamikaze drones of the “IAI Harop” type, but also locally produced “Orbiters 1/3”, are able to hover-cruise at altitudes up to 3000-4000 meters and to optically or passively radar search for their target. When they find a target, they head towards it, fly low following the configuration and relief of the terrain, and then crash at high angles of attack, which can be problematic for tracking the radars of air defense missile systems. Given that they fly low, before the attack, following the configuration and relief of the terrain, bearing in mind that most of the Nagorno-Karabakh region is hilly and mountainous, all radar-guided air defense missile systems may have problems tracking a target that can be temporarily “blocked” behind a hill, which causes the loss of radar coverage for illuminating the target and the loss of radar-guided missile air defense system.

Source: Tango Six (excerpt)

Azeri gains in blue
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