Azerbaijan and Armenia have been fighting for control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region since the 1990s, but the violence has been largely sporadic and strategically inconsequential — until now. In the past few days, heavy fighting sprang up across the region, which has been controlled by Armenia since 1994. Both nations are post-Soviet republics, and have close ties to Moscow, but the Azerbaijanis also receive weapons from Israel, possibly including Israel’s Harop drone, a remote-controlled, explosive-filled kamikaze-plane designed to dive-bomb enemy forces.
On Tuesday, Armenian authorities told Russian media that a Harop strike killed seven soldiers in a bus, backing up their claim with a video posted to Rusian social media site Vkontakte. Harop drones are a larger version of Israel’s Harpy drone, a fully autonomous suicide-drone designed to home in on radar installations and air defenses and destroy them in advance of conventional aircraft. The Harop, however, can be flown by a remote operator, letting it attack a wider range of targets. It’s essentially the same as a guided missile, but is much cheaper and can be launched from portable ground or sea installations. The rise of small, cheap, and portable UAV’s has changed warfare significantly, both on a tactical level, especially in Ukraine and by giving civilians a new perspective on the horrifying destruction of combat.
While we can’t confirm the authenticity of the video, the drone in it strongly resembles the Harop’s distinctive shape.
The Harop’s entire fuselage is the drone’s main munition, it doesn’t carry a separate warhead. It’s basically an alien-spacecraft shaped flying bomb, with [a 51-pound payload] that’s easier for smaller militaries like Azerbaijan’s to pick up and deploy than conventional cruise missiles or aircraft-launched smart bombs.
The video shows the drone beginning a lightning-fast dive, but it goes out of sight behind a hill before detonating. There’s a few cracks that could be a detonation afterward, but it’s difficult to tell with sporadic small arms fire in the background. You can watch the full video below.
The two countries first went to war after Christian Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region decided to secede from Azerbaijan, which is predominantly Muslim. Though the fighting seems to have died down, on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist government told Al Jazeera it was the bloodiest clash since the devastating war in the early 1990s.