The Second NK War: Lessons Learned and Future Expectations

The Artsakh War set an example for what next generation military weaponry is capable of. Warfare has changed its rules throughout the years; by integrating newer weaponry, the era of fourth generation warfare is finally coming to an end. What should we expect if newer wars ever erupt? What were some consensus changers? Did the Armed Forces of the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh react accordingly to the newly-developed threats, such as drones divide-and-control technology, etc., that the Azerbaijani armed forces aided by the Turkish air force utilized during the war?

“Have tanks and heavy armored vehicles become obsolete?”

We’ve all seen the footage that circulated throughout telegram channels of Bayraktar TB2s wiping out numerous Armenian T-72s. This is primarily due to the fact that most battles occurred on flat land. Armenian air defenses located in Artsakh were rather obsolete (to be discussed extensively in further sections).

T-72B of the NKR (Photo: Karabakh MoD)

Armenia’s Armed Forces along with the NKR defense force have approximately 450 to 500 main battle tanks (MBT) at their disposal which are mostly variants of the Soviet-made T-72. These variants include the famous T-72 “Ural” tank, the first ever mass-produced variant of the T-72 series that is widely used by post-Soviet countries. Due to its lack of explosive reactive armor (ERA), it is highly vulnerable to SABOT/HEAT rounds. Other variants include the T-72B which has added “Kontakt” ERA plating, making it a reasonable contender for the Azerbaijani Armed Forces’ T-72 “Aslan.” It also gives the tank crew a better standing against anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) attacks.

As footage and testimonies show, not much fighting occurred between tanks due to the abundance of ATGM sites located throughout the borders of NKR, as well as the excessive use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Some military magazines reported that tanks might become obsolete solely for those two reasons. This is not a new notion. In 2018 Turkey suffered extreme losses with respect to armor and armored personnel. This is largely due to the fact that the Syrian army has explicit Russian support as well as better equipment to deal with newer generations of tanks, such as the Leopard 2s of the Turkish Armed Forces.

Are tanks obsolete? Not by a long shot. The Syrian army operates the same variants of the T-72 and has been successful to discover its importance on urban battlegrounds. Military commanders know that tanks thrive in cover and are vulnerable against artillery fire and surgical/carpet bombing. This has been common knowledge even between Wehrmacht field marshals because the Panzer V “Panther” that preyed on allied armor due to its superior sloped frontal armor and its 75mm high velocity cannon had weak top armor plating and was easily wiped out by allied bombing runs. So, as long as the fighting occurs in urban grounds and/or state-of-the-art surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems are guarding the airspace, armor can be highly effective for holding down or taking strategic points. As the father of mechanized warfare, Guderian, once said, “If the tank succeeds, victory follows.”

“Where was SAM?”

During the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) had air superiority but the SAM systems established by the Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian armies wreaked havoc on any entity that dared to fly over or near their armored forces. The IAF suffered massive casualties. Losses among Israeli combat aircraft were high in the initial hours of the war when Phantoms and Mirage fighters attempted to launch strikes on Arab forces and inadvertently entered into the range of the S-125 missiles. The IAF from then on gave SAM sites a wide berth. Surface-to-air-missiles, likely more than any other weapons systems, were key to facilitating the Arab forces’ initial successes, though these gains would be reversed by the war’s end.

Osa-AK surface-to-air missile systems, December 2019

In an interview, Armenian Minister of Defense (MoD) Davit Tonoyan discussed newly purchased OSA-AKMs and TOR-MK SAM systems. He explicitly mentioned purchasing the OSA-AKM which is a Soviet-designed mobile, surface-to-air missile system with a maximum engagement range of close to 10 kilometers and a radar range of 500 kilometers. He said that the Republic of Armenia (RoA) purchased two dozen systems for roughly the price of one TOR-MK system. The problem is, when the OSA was designed, UAV and stealth technology did not exist, at least at the industrial level. The Armenian government opted towards quantity rather than quality. This resulted in casualties on the battleground for the main reason that the OSA systems were not efficient in tracking and taking down numerous drones at once. Add that to the lack of situational awareness of the operators, and you get the best recipe for losing the only shields you have against aerial attacks.

Lt. Gen. Jalal Harutyunyan (Photo: Karabakh MoD)

I would like to point to the case of former NKR Defense Minister Jalal Harutyunyan who was reportedly injured by a direct drone strike per Azerbaijan’s MoD. This shows the complete incompetence of Armenian counter-intelligence agencies. 

Regarding the more advanced systems that the RoA armed forces had purchased, such as the TOR-MK, S-300 “Grumble” and Buk systems, they were mostly stationed in Armenia to guard its own airspace. Multiple reports showed that at least one S-300 system was knocked out along with its radar systems getting destroyed. The vehicles were said to be in the Kotayk region. Why? That remains a mystery.

The use of outdated anti-air defense systems by the RoA armed forces was problematic in trying to defend their positions. Drones that had acquired stealth technology and somewhat adequate anti-jamming capabilities easily outmaneuvered and destroyed most air defenses which left our ground forces exposed and armored vehicles vulnerable. The military term would be “a sitting duck.”

Finally, are the SU-30SM multirole fighters or just fancier looking ground-attack planes?

RoA armed forces had recently purchased 4+ generation fighters which were the SU-30SM “Flanker.” The drones that were delivering devastating blows to ground units were being operated by Turkish-made F-16 “vipers,” which were connected via datalink to an E-7T airborne warning control system (AWACS) flying over occupied western Armenian lands.

Su-30SM undergoing maintenance on the tarmac (Photo: Russian Ministry of Defense)

The Flanker is a formidable candidate to intercept the Viper but did not see any action during the war (at least not as interceptors) because they were not equipped with air-to-air missiles (AAMs) such as the “Vympel” or “Archer.”

The fact that the RoA air force was using its planes for mission-specific purposes was not surprising due to the excessive use of SAM systems from both sides, but a little research would show that the SU-30sm fighters did not actually have any air-to-air attack capabilities, meaning they did not have Fox 1 (semi-active homing missiles), Fox 2 (heat seeking missiles) or Fox 3 (active homing radar missiles). The Flankers were only equipped with O-25 rocket pods which only serve for air-to-ground operations that could have been conducted with the “Frogfoots.”

In conclusion, the war raised a few questions and cemented some ideas. Tanks were definitely misused, which allows me to safely say again that tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are not futile in modern warfare and serve practically as backbones for armies. The RoA armed forces should have been more attentive regarding the limitations of their old air defense systems. The bottom line is that peace, by definition, is waving a bigger stick. We sure didn’t match up.

Alek Elbekian

Alek Elbekian

Alek Elbekian is a theoretical physics student and has worked at the Yerevan Physics Institute.
Alek Elbekian

@alekneee

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13 Comments

  1. Great article. First time Im actually hearing a true productive analysis of this war disaster. Not only that the Azeris were using Israeli satellite technology to correctly analyze the terrain for accurate drone involvement. Also the past General Chief of staff of ROA claimed that incompetence, ignorance and lack of understand of the art of war by not mobilizing the Army is directly to blame. Basically the Azeris with oil money, Turkey’s direct military involvement, paid mercenaries and Israeli technology all against Armenia/Artsakh who were unprepared and using old technology along with incompetent leadership all equals disaster..

    Armenia was left high and dry by Russia as well Lets not forget that,. What a useless ally Russia is. Its only there now to cater to this disaster to basically put its foot in as a neutral party just to pretend. Totally self serving. We are truly alone. Again who do you blame for this? Old leadership? Pashinyan’s incompetence? Unless we resolve this question, Armenia is vulnerable to more attacks and land grabs. This must be goal #1.

    HOW ABOUT: Diaspora army units from here on out to massively increase military numbers? Diaspora army intelligence indoctrination as think tanks to further our resources? Lets start to think outside the Armenian/Russian old useless militarily box? Russian interest BTW do not correspond with a strong independent Armenian military. Their neglect is purposeful. That is clear. How about the creation of the most advanced domestic Military industrial complex? Maybe all the above.

    This war was a disaster. Lessens need to be learned and CORRECTED NOW! Or more disasters are in the horizon.

    • Joe, diaspora army units were once a great idea, not any more. You know why? Because diaspora Armenian units do not need to and will not put their lives on the line for the CROOKS and CHARLATANS of Armenia! At this point, would you? Certainly I wouldn’t, and not in a million years, unless some basic and fundamental changes take place. If this war taught us one thing, our 30 years of investment in our homeland turned into a big fat zero, because Armenia all along has been infested by the same crooks of the Soviet Union until today going by different badges and slogans. The entirety of Armenia’s so-called “leadership” needs a complete overhaul for one. Next, the ignoramus anti-ARF mentality (a self-induced stupidity and by-product of Soviet garbage mentality and brain washing) needs to get its backbone shattered. And next, diaspora Armenians need to openly take leadership positions in Armenia itself. If this does not take place, and I am speaking as a traditional diaspora Armenian, then we diaspora Armenians are wasting all our money, time, efforts, emotions, etc.

      And one of the tragically funniest things I have actually seen among my ‘hayastantsi’ compatriots is, they “worry” that diaspora Armenians would one day enter Armenia’s leadership, particularly the “ARF types”. All the while, these “authentic Armenians” actually ESCAPED Armenia during the independence movement instead of staying there and fixing the country. What a JOKE. Not to brag about ARF, but unless such a patriotic party AND mentality takes a hold of Armenia, then Armenia will continue on its slow-motion suicide, regardless of anything else, including “help” from the diaspora and western liberal infiltration or empty and fake “we are friends and allies” rhetoric from Russia and their ‘useful idiot’ operatives.

    • @ Zartir,

      Waiting for someone in Armenia proper to come to power to change the system is a pipe dream. So yes diaspora indoctrination, direct involvement to bring massive resources is the major component that is missing. In reality Armenians are true victims of divide and conquer polices and have been for centuries. Look at this war, with incompetent leadership full of excuses, we lost historical lands, lost moral and fell directly back into Russian hegemony as the only supposed means of salvation, just where the Russians wanted us to be. To be truly independent and masters of our own destiny, we have to all be united as one. And ignoring the 10 million strong diaspora is a mistake as it MUST be part of this unity strategy. How direct? Diaspora army units for starters; Imagine another 30-60k military trained ready able soldiers prepared in case of war? Prepared to fly back if needed? And yes I would send my children to be part of the Armenian military. Why not? Therefore diaspora army units as part of the army is a prerequisite for direct involvement. Im convinced that many would stay after service to repopulate, to start business, to bring outside thought and resources like nothing before, and imagine if your kids are on the front lines how much more motivated the diaspora itself would actually be? Highly motivated. The problem is the past Karbakh presidents never would have entertained this at all as it feared losing its control and its ability to rob the population. They actually promoted emigration where 1/3 of the population left. Treasonous in my opinion. As for Pashinyan, I’m not quite sure if hes truly just incompetent or worse, possibly a traitor himself. But hes useless and impotent and a loser either way. He must be rid but as the saying goes, sometimes one has to be careful of what you wish for as old Soviet useless robber mentality past leadership types slide right back in sealing Armenia’s fate and closing off true democracy and the diaspora permanently, other then diaspora donations of course.. Without the diaspora Armenia is left to be at the whim of Russia. And look where that has gotten us? Nowhere..

  2. So long as we depend on other countries (“allies”) for our defenses, we cannot expect to win; and worse, we will continue to lose the war. While it is crucial for Armenia to court its allies, be it Russia, France, or any other country, we need to realize that none of these countries will be willing to sacrifice their armed forces for the sake of Armenia. We have seen this over and over again, yet we keep expecting a different outcome. Let’s be realistic: what does Armenia have to offer to them in return? We MUST DEPEND ON OUR OWN RESOURCES, within the RoA along with the diaspora.

  3. The author says RoA opted for quantity not quality. I disagree. I would say the RoA opted for the equipment they could get the most kick-backs on. And that would be equipment that was outdated. Have you seen some of the homes of these Generals? There is no other explanation as everyone knew Azerbaijan was using drones since the 2016 April war and an adequate air defence was needed against them.

  4. the turks produce their own mobile radar jammers that have a range of 200km, which i looked up, is roughly from shushi to yerevan. the turkish tanks that were destroyed in syria were mostly destroyed by ISIS suicide bombers and their atgm crews.
    this level of incompetence i could expect from a civilian head of state but why were our generals so blind to the developments of modern warfare? had they not been paying attention to what was going on in the world around them? were these generals appointed to their positions because of “connections” or did they achieve their rank by merit? this is a very important question.

  5. I’m a nutshell, all military leaders in Armenia should be jailed. We’re good in chess strategy which should help us, but the leadership of the country have sucked in leveraging this strategic mindset to benefit the nation’s security.

  6. I’ve seen it said, here and elsewhere, that the 2020 War is the 2nd Karabakh War; actually, it’s better described as the 3rd Karabakh War. Everyone seems to forget that the April 2016 War, was described as the 4 Day War (even in Wikipedia), until now.

    These are the three of them: The Karabakh War for Independence (1988-1994); The 4-Day April War (2016); and, the most recent one, the Karabakh Holocaust War (2020).

  7. Here is my expanded list of “Lessons Learned from the Second Artsakh War”.

    1. We learned that “Mother Russia” is not only NOT Armenia’s ally, but “Mother Russia” worked with Turkey to destroy Artsakh and swindle all the territories from Armenian hands. Generally Russians themselves might be “pro-Armenia”, but at least that is the policy of the little terrorist chief dictator of Russia named Vladimir Putin.

    2. We learned that Georgia is Armenia’s enemy, on par with Azerbaijan and Turkey. At some point in the future, Georgia needs to pay a price for transporting terrorists through its airspace for purposes of destroying Artsakh.

    3. We learned that we need to build and stockpile “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, enough of it where all of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey would have 100% coverage.

    4. We learned that Armenia needs to forget about the “nuclear non-proliferation treaty” and even the “Geneva Conventions” on warfare. When it comes to Turks and Azeris, there should be absolutely no “rules” to abide by for Armenia. “Rules of War” should only be against civilized nations.

    5. We learned that “it is OK” to pay mercenaries and terrorists to attack neighbors and take over their territories, and Armenia needs to establish a channel to implement this program asap.

    6. We learned that Armenia needs to now openly and actively support, finance and supply weapons to any “separatist” movements within Turkey and Azerbaijan. The goal must be to balkanize them.

    7. Armenia needs to look for ways where the so-called “United Nations” starts to “condemn” whatever it is we are doing, only then do we know you are on the right track for the future of your nation. The world is against Armenia’s interests, Armenia has no allies, not even one ally. The diaspora is a potential ally, but not while Armenia is full of crooks.

    8. We learned that all foreign nations, companies and interests who “invested in Azerbaijan” need to lose every ruble, dollar, pound and shekel that they put in. Armenia must find ways, legal or “illegal” to see to it that Azerbaijan no longer makes any profit.

    9. We learned that any non-Armenian individual, company or entity who thought that “we can now go exploit to land for our profit in Artsakh now that Azebaijan controls it” must LOSE at every project. Artsakh must become uninhabitable and uninvestable for any non-Armenian.

    10. We learned that every nation that Armenia has dealt with regarding Artsakh, security, peace, etc is a FRAUD. Give every world leader and politician barking at Armenia for the past 30 years about “give peace a chance” THE MIDDLE FINGER!

    • Here’s the funny part, for once Zartir Lao is, despite his delusions, not entirely wrong in his theoretical analysis. Of course, he once again seems to overestimate potential by about 10-1,000x times. And by potential I not only mean money, manpower or willingness but also the necessary direction. This people are a circus, as we have found out when they voted a Western sponsored journo into power and kept him there. So good luck with your grand plans that are on par with those of say China, India or Russia.

      1. Not really sure the general population is either but sure. Maybe before that you should have learned a lesson about antagonizing your only guarantor? But not, let’s not think about what you could have done differently.

      2. Sure, doesn’t matter – they’re about to become a Turkish khanate soon. Why did you learn this just now and not before, given all the economic dependence that Georgia developed?

      3. – 4. Not sure what else to call this other than ravings of a lunatic – all the political ramifications aside (see North Korea), do you have an idea how expensive WMD are to develop? Do you think anyone would let you develop them? If Iran can’t, what makes you think you can? Are you really that out of touch with reality to think that what stopped this so far was a “nuclear non-proliferation treaty”?

      5. OK, back to point 3. Absolutely, who pays for those people? Real question, that needs to be tackled, right?

      6. Same as 4. and 5. Good luck.

      7. Maybe, but again, they will also only condemn counteractions just like happened now.

      8. OK, good luck with that “intelligence service” that is in place currently.

      9. And also I want no more weather below 0 in Armenia EVER.

      10. I mean, given the facts on the ground, I’m not so sure this is even an issue for them any longer.

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