Wednesday 4 January 2023

Sky-High Ambitions: Armenia’s Drone Programmes

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Considering the significant investments made by Azerbaijan in the acquisition of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), it is perhaps surprising that Armenia entered the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War with only a rudimentary unmanned aerial reconnaissance capability, and almost no unmanned offensive capabilities to speak of. [1] While the Armenian Ministry of Defence boasted of having destroyed three Azerbaijani MBTs through the use of domestically-made loitering munitions during the July 2020 Armenian–Azerbaijani clashes, the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War showed that despite this zealous claim, no such capabilities truly existed in the inventory of the Armenian Armed Forces at that time. [2]
This certainly wasn't for a lack of domestically available designs however, as Armenian defence companies have designed no less than 23 different types of loitering munitions in the past four years alone! An equally significant number of reconnaissance UAVs have seen the light of day, with many designs successfully reaching the prototype phase. Rather than investing in these and other promising homegrown systems, the Armenian MoD used the little funding it had available to acquire four Su-30 strike fighters from Russia. [3] The painful result: A lack of UAVs during the 2020 War and four Su-30s that couldn't be used as there were no funds to purchase their associated armament.
The UAV types that did enter service were mostly rudimentary in capabilities. The most numerous of these, a copy of the Russian Ptero-E5 known as the X-55, flies on pre-programmed routes based on waypoints by means of an onboard GPS device, taking pictures at regularly spaced intervals. The imagery is manually retrieved after the flight, offering up-to-date intelligence of a quality comparable to that of commercial satellite imagery, yet limited in obvious ways. More capable types like the Krunk were acquired in too few numbers to have an impact on the 2020 War. To make up for Armenia's dire lack of reconnaissance capabilities, Russia delivered a number of Orlan-10s during the 2020 War. [4]

Russia is also the source behind the technology of the UL-300 (ZALA 421-16E) and UL-350 (Supercam S350) reconnaissance UAVs, the latter of which is confirmed to have entered service with the Armenian Army. [5] Another Russian UAV that has entered service is the Gryphon-12. The Orlan-10s received in late 2020 have also been used as the basis for a new reconnaissance UAV developed by Davaro. [6] The delivery of UAVs from Russia and the technology transfer that accompanied them has helped Armenia to advance its unmanned reconnaissance capabilities at relatively short notice, but again essentially sidelined Armenian drone manufacturers and their own indigenous designs.
Thanks to a steady stream of Israeli UAVs that crash-landed in Armenian territory, Armenia's indigenous drone designs are increasingly based on Israeli technology as drone manufacturers attempt to replicate their capabilities. The director of Armenia's UAV manufacturer Davaro confirmed in 2020 that Israeli-made UAVs had been transferred to his company for study. [6] In turn, a shot of UAVLAB's factory revealed a disassembled Israeli-made SkyStriker, and it takes little analytic ability to see that the company's UL-450 design is based on the Orbiter-3. Davaro in turn has used the Harop as the basis for its DEV-3 loitering munition (LM) whilst also copying Türkiye's STM Kargu LM.

DEV-3 loitering munitions that are based on, or at least inspired by, the Israeli IAI Harop. The smaller DEV-1 is seen on the left.

The HRESH-7 loitering munition, which appears inspired by, but not directly based on, the Israeli Hero-30.

After painfully witnessing the leading role played by unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War first hand, it is only logical that Armenia has since attempted to introduce a similar capability. Despite reports that Armenia is seeking to acquire armed drones from neighbouring Iran, it appears that the Armenian MoD is instead looking to introduce a domestic system. [7] Drone manufacturer Davaro is currently designing the Aralez UCAV that can be armed with up to four SMA A5 or AGB-003 guided bombs. The Aralez project is currently still in early development and is likely several years away from spawning an operational system.

The prototype of the Aralez UCAV that was unveived in March 2022. Note the four SMA A5 guided bombs under its wings.

Armenia's drone designs are impressive, even more so considering the lack of (financial) support from the Armenian Ministry of Defence to further advance them and one day enter serial production. Despite reports that the mass production of loitering munitions was to start in the summer of 2020, just two Armenian loitering munition strikes were recorded in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. [8] [9] [10] Nevertheless, it is pretty clear that Armenia is looking at its indigenous drone designs with high hopes of using them to counter Azerbaijan's increasing military superiority. Armenia's foremost drone designer Davaro signed cooperation agreements with Russia's STC (the designer of the Orlan-10), Kronshtadt (designer of the Orion UCAV) and with UAE's EDGE Group in 2022, which could help further boost Armenia's rate of innovation in the field of UAVs.

The goal of this list is to comprehensively catalogue Armenia's unmanned aerial vehicles, loitering muntions, UCAVs and their armament. The part within the apostrophes refers to other designations or an unofficial designation. In an effort to streamline the list and avoid unnecessary confusion, this list only includes military-grade drones or commercially available drones confirmed to be in service with Armenia's Armed Forces. A year in square brackets after the designation refers to the year the equipment was first seen or reported in.
(Click on the UAV to get a picture of them in Armenian service)

Surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Operational

Surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Prototypes / Not Yet Acquired


Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles - Prototypes / Not Yet Acquired

  • DEV-4 ''BEEB-3200 or BEEB-4'' [2018] [ProMAQ and Davaro] (Claimed to be capable of carrying small unguided bombs) 
  • UL-450 [2022] (Can be armed with one AGB-003 guided bomb) [UAVLAB] (Based on the Israeli Orbiter-3)
  • Aralez [2022] (Can be armed with four SMA A5 or AGB-003 guided bombs) [Early development] [Davaro]
  • Unknown UCAV (1) [2018] (Can be armed with two RPG-26s or contemporary types)

Loitering Munitions - Operational

  • BZEZ Two configurations: (2) [UAVLAB]


Loitering Munitions - Prototypes / Not Yet Acquired


Training And Miscellaneous Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Prototypes

[1] Death From Above - Azerbaijan’s Killer Drone Arsenal
[3] Knights Of Yerevan - Armenia’s Su-30 Flankers
[7] Armenia Wants Iranian Drones, Says Top Iranian Military Official
[8] Artsakh to mass produce combat drones, trials successfully completed
[11] Davaro News

Recommended Articles