While reconnaissance and weaponized drones (UAV) have been around for many years and in use by a few countries, these were expensive ventures for any army to have in their arsenal. In most cases, they were human controlled or piloted from hundreds or thousands of miles away and when the armed drone spotted its target it was a human that pulled the trigger that fired a missile into its target obliterating it.
The most famous and copied armed drone is the U.S. Predator with its proven record of reliability and kill record. Since its arrival many, many years ago, other countries have copied it, improved it, or have come up with even more deadly drones.
How they are used in combat during a war was showcased by the small nation of Azerbaijan in October 2020. This border war between Azerbaijan and Armenia was over territory lost to Armenia in a 1994 war. In the years since, Azerbaijan never forgot this loss and sought revenge after building up its small army from oil revenue. While it bought many conventional type weapons, it also bought millions of dollars worth of drones between 2005-17. Among these are the the Israeli Harop drone and the Turkish TB2, a copy of the U.S. Predator armed drone.
Both drones are unique in their own way and both are very accurate, deadly weapons. While it is unclear just how many drones were bought, estimates range from 50-100, based upon the costs and the total amount spent.
The Harop Drone
Future warfare was clearly seen during the brief war in the days before the Russian Krasukha electronic warfare at Gyumri, Armenia, intervened. The Harop, which costs around $10 million each, is a small, armed (50 lb. warhead), drone that is nearly impossible to shoot down. It is fast and can be human controlled up to 120 miles or used with pre-programmed targets up to 620 miles away. The drone also can operate autonomously the same distance loitering high above enemy territory, like a bird. Should the enemy use radio signals for radar or communication the drone will become a kamikaze honing in on the signal to destruction. The are so fast when descending, the target has little time to react (this can been seen briefly in a battle scene from the Netflix movie, Mosul, when a drone is heard but not seen and before anyone can react, it has destroyed a Humvee).
Azerbaijan used several of these drones during the war. They are launched from a truck containing up to 12 drones. In one photo, there are two such trucks, so their army has least 24 of these drones. When they were used before Russian EW prevented them, the Armenians didn't know what hit them. The quickly eliminated AFVs and trucks bringing reinforcements to the front, they destroyed some of the Armenian SAM and Radar equipment rendering them useless, many miles away from where the fighting was. They swarmed in bunches of six or more causing chaos among troops on the ground and even T72 tanks were immobilized by them.
Together with the Turkish TB2 drone (which were operated by Turkish soldiers) carting a much heavier payload, the two drone types would destroy or immobilized 173 T-72 tanks, 257 APC, 67 Missile launchers, 23 SAMs, 14 radar of the Armenians. These were losses they could not afford to lose.
The countermeasure against all drones is electronic warfare jammers. The Russian Krasukha halted the success of the Azerbaijan drone warfare. This jammer has a range of 300 km and on October 19, 2020, Azerbaijan sent nine TB2 drones up on various missions and all were lost. What the Krasukha did was to sever the communication signal between the human pilot and the UAV, rendering the TB2 useless until its fuel expired and they crashed. Without the human pilot steering, this drone did not return home (like many do) if the signal is lost. It also lacks GPS.
With the Harop drone, even when the signal was lost via EW, it continued to operate in loitering mode waiting for a enemy to use radio or radar signals to hone in on. It does not need a human to steer it to a target.
Future warfare was on full display in this small border war by two little nations. Imagine what it will be like between major countries with advanced drone technology.