Greece must learn military lessons from the Armenian defeat

Azerbaijani drone strike in Artsakh.

If the defeat of the Armenians is due to many factors, which should be considered at multiple levels by Greece, some initial (albeit precarious) conclusions can be drawn regarding developments in war methodologies and the capabilities and inefficiency of weapons systems. The form of operations there, in fact, bears great resemblance to the battles against by ISIS in Iraq and the war in eastern Ukraine a few years ago, which Greece must observe.

Although public attention has turned to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), especially the Turkish-assembled Bayrarktar drone, it would be wrong to be trapped in a “fetishism” about the operational value of aircraft. It was not in itself what caused serious blows to the Armenian forces.

Their value lay in the fact that they were integrated into systems forming recognition-impact grids, with massive power projection capabilities and at the same time with a large tolerance for losses. We also point out that the aircraft used are not very high technology.

In fact, the Artsakh conflict has been marked by the limited, non-existent role of high-tech, high-cost platforms such as modern fighter jets. This limited the role of air defense systems, such as the S-300, which are precisely aimed at dealing with fighter jets.

The Azeris did not rely on high-tech systems, but on their ability to inflict heavy losses on the opponent, combined with their ability to take heavy losses.

One pillar of Azeri power was impact-recognition grids, the core of which were low-tech aircraft. They had them in large numbers, so they could suffer heavy losses. The second pillar was a large army on the ground, which consisted largely of mercenaries, who could also suffer heavy losses.

Azerbaijani drone strike in Artsakh.
Azerbaijani drone strike in Artsakh.

The aircraft were used both for impact and mainly in intelligence gathering, reconnaissance surveillance and target acquisition (ISTAR) roles, directing artillery fire and guiding infantry. An infantry with great tolerance for losses inflicted on it by ruthless, determined and resourceful Armenians.

Dominance with drones

The need for large numbers of consumable aircraft has been recognized in the West as well. As British Air Force chief Sir Stephen Hillier put it, during the conference on the future of air and space power, held in London (July 17, 2019), it is a crucial issue to create more targets in the air.

In particular, the British Royal Air Force is concerned about the small number of fighter jets currently available and is therefore seeking, inter alia, to acquire unmanned fighters that will accompany the manned aircraft. These aircraft will have many roles, but the goal is to create larger fleets of consumable aircraft that will saturate the enemy air defense. This is exactly what the Azeris did in Artsakh.

Similar is the approach of the US Air Force, which wants to frame its F-35 and F-15EX fighter jets with the unmanned XQ-58 Valkyrie of Kratos Defense Security Solutions, or something similar. Valkyrie began to develop in July 2016, when the US Air Force awarded Kratos a contract under the Low Cost Attritable Aircraft program. The mass use of aircraft for reconnaissance or impact is not a privilege of technologically advanced countries.

For example, during the SOFIC (Special Operations Forces Industry Conference) in Tampa, Florida (May 2017), General Tony Thomas, Commander of the US Armed Forces Interdepartmental Special Operations Command, stated that ISIS in Mosul had achieved regular air supremacy with the widespread use of modified trade drones. These carried out reconnaissance and strike missions, carrying 40mm bombs, or turning them into aerial improvised explosive devices.

The example of Eastern Ukraine

The value of strike-and-hit grids was also evident from operations in eastern Ukraine in 2014-2015, where the Russians used artillery units flexibly. They were supplied with information from aircraft, special operations teams and electronic warfare systems to quickly detect enemy forces and fire them at a rapidly changing battlefield.

For example, in July 2014, according to US intelligence sources, a single Russian artillery brigade destroyed two Ukrainian motorized battalions within minutes, in the “Battle of Zelenopillya”. In particular, a force of the Ukrainian 79th Airmobile Brigade appeared at an advanced outpost and just 30 minutes later came under heavy fire from multiple BM-21 Grad rocket launchers, resulting in its destruction.

It is estimated that the Russians used special forces to locate the Ukrainians and passed the targeting data to the rocket launchers. The Russians also seem to have used electronic warfare systems, such as the PB-301B Borisoglebsk-2. This could interfere with or intercept radio signals and cell phone broadcasts, as the Ukrainians used cell phones at the beginning of the conflict to direct artillery fire, leading the Russians to intercept them.

Another system used by the Russians is the Leer-3, which is estimated to detect the coordinates of active cell phones from their GPS. In this way, it seems that the Russians targeted and destroyed several artillery units of the Ukrainian airborne forces. To tackle the problem, the Ukrainians were equipped with Harris RF 7800V radios from the United States, which offer cryptographic communications.

According to Ukrainian Lieutenant General Andrii Koliennikov, deputy director of the Institute for Scientific Research of the Military Equipment Directorate of Ukraine, 90% of Ukrainian casualties in this war came from artillery and mortar fire.

Part of the Russian strategy was also to strike a crushing blow at the adversary’s command and control structure so that it could not respond to Russian blows. The doctrine of the use of Russian artillery seeks to minimize the time available to the enemy to return fire. It is noteworthy that the Russians used all the artillery systems at their disposal, old and new, even some that had been withdrawn.

Critical choice for the Greece’s Armed Forces

From the above it becomes clear that it is wrong, if not dangerous for Greece to focus on increasingly few markets, due to the high cost, high-tech battle platforms. These become unaffordable, precisely because of the high cost and the small numbers available, but also the long time required to replenish them in case of loss.

Greece MPU RX-4 with the AUTH team. Photo: ANA-MPA
MPU RX-4 drone with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki team in Greece. Photo: ANA-MPA

The situation becomes even more dysfunctional, if combined with the inability to suffer great losses in human resources. And it becomes extremely dangerous when the opponent invests in multi-platform reconnaissance-impact grids that have high tolerances in losses, while his tolerances in human losses are also greater.

In addition, the debate over which frigate or fighter jet is better than the other is dangerously misleading. In war reality, what counts is the development of multi-system battle “entities”, which unite differently within an indivisible unit to inflict destructive blows on the opponent and with great tolerances to the blows received by him. That is why the expensive and incomplete battle platforms are not the appropriate means to strengthen Greece’s combat capabilities. Instead, they offer an Achilles heel to the opponent!

To learn from the defeat of the Armenians

These conclusions are not necessarily negative for Greece. On the contrary, they offer huge opportunities if we want to invest in Greece’s ingenuity, in the rich scientific and technical potential and if of course we utilize commercially available technologies. Today, Greece is at the beginning of a series of major changes in the art, science and technology of war, which are shaping a revolution in this field.

This is exactly the revolution examined by the signatory’s latest study “The New Military Revolution and Greece’s Defense Strategy” (Livani Publications). From this comes much of the information presented here. This revolution offers huge opportunities in Greece, not only to strengthen the fighting capabilities of the army economically, but also to achieve a cooperative relationship of the national economy and defense, instead of being competitive as it is today.

However, if Greece insists on an outdated model of combat capability development based on the overseas market of expensive high-tech platforms, cut off from each other, we risk being trapped in an innovative gap with the adversary. This will cause very dangerous disharmony on the Greece-Turkey front in the years to come.

The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Greek City Times.

Konstantinos Grivas is an Associate Professor of Geopolitics at the Military School of Guards. He also teaches Geography of Security in the Wider Middle East at the Department of Turkish and Contemporary Asian Studies at the University of Athens in Greece. He is a regular contributor to SLPress.


Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor