Lessons learned from the employment of Missile and Rocket Artillery in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Capt João Paulo Ramos Serpa

The Nagorno-Karabakh region, located in Azerbaijani territory, became, since February 1988, the target of a dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The dispute stems from the fact that this mountainous region, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, is inhabited by a majority of ethnic Armenians, estimated at 150,000 people, who reject Azeri rule.

In September 2020, a new escalation in this dispute was triggered when Muslim-majority Azerbaijan and Christian-majority Armenia began to accuse each other of rival attacks, using mainly fire support means and targeting positions near the borders, as well as civilian camps in the region. (ENTENDA, 2020)

Thus, the military operations in the area, which lasted 44 days, provided a number of legacies about the employment of military forces in a modern conflict. In particular, one aspect stood out: the employment of Artillery in combination with Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).

A first aspect observed relates to the similarity of the missile and rocket systems used by both countries. Obviously, both Armenia and Azerbaijan having been part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), it becomes simple to understand this similarity, since both inherited significant amounts of MEM from the USSR.

However, special attention is devoted to the longevity of the serviceability of these materials, and especially to their employment as a decisive factor in the mid-2020s. As an example, the BM-21-Grad launcher system, widely used by Armenia, has its production period beginning in 1963.

One can see, then, that the judicious and well-planned use of area saturation fires, typical of the Missile and Rocket Artillery, is essential in any modern conflict, particularly between peer forces, regardless of the degree of modernization of the material.

On the other hand, the employment of a modern arsenal of missiles and rockets by the Azeris was notorious, demonstrating that in the last two decades, especially due to the revenues obtained from the export of oil and gas, the local government has invested heavily in military power, certainly in preparation for this conflict (SHAIKH; RUMBAUGH, 2020).

In this way, the use of “Lora” missiles, acquired in 2017 and 2018, and “Extra” missiles, acquired between 2005 and 2009, both of Israeli origin with outstanding capabilities on the international scene, stands out, in particular the high-precision GPS/INS guidance, allowing a probable circular error of 10 meters to be obtained (LORA, 2022).

Also noteworthy is the use of systems such as the T-300 “Kasirga”, a 300mm rocket launcher of Turkish origin, which contains an estimated inventory of 20 pieces; the Belarusian “Polonez”, also capable of using 300mm rockets at ranges of up to 200km, with an estimated number of 10 pieces; and the “Lynx” launcher, of Azeri origin in partnership with Israeli industry, capable of using in a single KamAZ (Russian) base vehicle 122mm, 160mm and 200mm launchers. (SHAIKH; RUMBAUGH, 2020).

Moreover, in addition to articles and publications dealing with the conflict, there was wide dissemination of audiovisual content, aimed at victory at the core of psychological operations, which facilitated the visualization of some aspects that presented themselves as a trend in this combat. Among them, it became evident the extensive use of the means of searching for targets, particularly through remotely piloted aircraft. These aircraft, considering the limitations of the anti-aircraft protection capability, especially in Armenia, had relative freedom of action and proved to be a valuable means of combat support.

The limitations in establishing active and passive artillery defense measures on both sides were also noticeable. In several videos, one can observe rocket launching systems occupying open areas for long periods, apparently without any anti-aircraft defense or camouflage.

In this opportunity, the techniques, tactics and procedures of the Missile and Rocket Artillery proved to be limited and poorly established, and it is possible to observe in the footage, for example, Armenian BM-21 “Grad” launchers firing and then returning to a waiting position where the rest of the Battery was, leaving the position easily identifiable and thus becoming a target for the Azeri counterbattery.

It is clear that just as there is great concern about the technical aspects of firing missiles and rockets, the need for constant and exhaustive training in the use of launching systems is no less important, with emphasis on the issue of survivability in combat.

The intense use of attack drones against battery positions, particularly using the “Bayraktar TB 2” model (Turkish medium-altitude RPAS with remote control capability) on the Azerbaijani side, caused the destruction of about 75 BM 21 “Grad”, 4 BM 30 “Smerch” and 2 Armenian WM-80s on the Azerbaijani artillery (MITZER, 2020).

It is worth noting that at the end of this period of conflict, Azerbaijan won a decisive victory in the region, regaining political control of much of the disputed region.

From the above, we conclude that the following lessons from this conflict can be applied to Art Msl Fgt: Combat survivability is a priority in the use of these fire support means; special attention should be given to the anti-aircraft protection of battery positions, since the use of ARP, both reconnaissance and attack, is a trend in current conflicts due to the efficiency of their weapon systems and their relative low cost (taking into account that in certain operations even civil RPA can be used as a means of surveillance and search for targets); and Artillery is a target of great military importance for the use of these means.

In this scope, one can see the decisive expansion of fire support capacity when combining effective observation means, such as RPA, with Artillery systems, always considering the adequate time of the target processing cycle.

In addition, attention must be paid to the means of camouflage and passive defense measures for battery positions. With regard to camouflage, it is worth noting that new technologies have recently appeared on the scene, allowing, for example, thermal localization protection capability, as well as nanotechnology, which allows the redirection of light waves through an object. These technologies present themselves as a viable option for acquisition by the Brazilian Army.(HUSSEINI, 2019).

As for passive defense measures, it is important that there is continuous training for the use of the shoot-and-scoot (process that consists of quickly occupying a position, firing and leaving the position), always taking into account the maximum time that a Missile and Rocket Battery can remain in position.

Finally, it should be noted that the Artillery also proved to be an essential means of fire support in this recent conflict, particularly through the use of missiles and rockets, capable of supporting fire operations under any weather conditions. To this end, full operational capability must be maintained since peacetime through training, efficient use of simulation equipment, adequate availability of means, and constant development and improvement of weapons and ammunition systems.

*** Translated with by the DEFCONPress FYI Team ***


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About the author

Cap João Paulo Ramos Serpa – Cap Art João Paulo Ramos Serpa graduated from AMAN/2015. He holds the Missile and Rocket System Operation Course and has a post-graduate degree in Public and People Management. He was the Commander of the Line of Fire of the 1st and 3rd Batteries of the 32nd GAC, in Brasilia (DF), in the years 2016/2017.

He was an instructor at the Artillery Course of AMAN, in Resende (RJ), in the biennium 2018/2019. He was also Adjunct-S3 and Battery Commander at the 5th GAC AP, in Curitiba (PR), in the years 2020/2021. He is currently an instructor at the Missile and Rocket Artillery Training Center in Formosa (GO).

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