“To put it in a very radical way, if the Bundeswehr had had to fight against Azerbaijan in this specific conflict, it would not have had much luck,” answered Lieutenant Colonel Michael Karl, an expert of the GIDS. “With weapon systems that were used such as combat drones and kamikaze drones, we would not have been able to defend ourselves adequately. The lack of army anti-aircraft defenses alone would have been our undoing.”
Loitering munition (or “suicide drones”) have proved themselves particularly capable during the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh in November 2020. Open-source information suggests that over 59 Armenian vehicles ranging from trucks, artillery units, and even tanks, were destroyed using Israel-produced loitering munitions that Azerbaijan acquired between 2014 and 2019.
“Unlike a rocket, where you enter target coordinates, these types of drones pursue their target,” explains Lieutenant Colonel Karl. “For example, a swarm of such drones could be programmed to attack a formation of battle tanks.”
Consequently, the expert advocates for an increase of coordination between the air and land forces, and the accelerated procurement of anti-drone solutions for the German military. “Sound, interference, or SkyNet systems for drone defense, for example, already exist – some of them are also used civilly at airports. But we now have to be able to procure and use them quickly as the Bundeswehr, because future technology is developing at breakneck speed.”
Much like its allies, the German military is conscious of the threat posed by such inexpensive and easily accessible aircraft. The answer of the GDIS only reinforces that perception, in the light of their respective budget ($63.8 billion in 2021 for the German military, and $2.33 billion for the Azerbaijani counterpart).
In addition to the “kamikaze drones”, the Azerbaijani forces also showed the efficiency of its recently acquired armed drones, namely the Turkish Bayraktar TB2, which destroyed a number of Armenian armored vehicles and anti-aircraft systems. “Thanks to advanced Turkish drones owned by the Azerbaijan military, our casualties on the front shrunk,” Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said in an interview with the Turkish public channel TRT Haber.
The Bundeswehr currently has only used unmanned drones for reconnaissance and observation. Recently, five Heron TP drones manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries were acquired. Those drones have the possibility to be armed, a capability that the Bundeswehr has been long requesting.
But the weaponization of drones is at the center of a heated public debate in Germany. “The line between defending the lives of our soldiers and killing with a joystick is extremely thin,” explained Social Democratic Party leader Norbert Walter-Borjans. The Federal election to take place in September 2021 should be decisive on the question.