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A new Battlefield of Drones: Case Study of Nagorno Karabakh

Author : Rahul Matharu

During 1924 Azerbaijan and Armenia were Subsumed to Soviet Union, the Nagorno-Karabakh was established as an autonomous region within Azerbaijan by soviet.

During Dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the autonomous region become a source of animosity between Azerbaijan and Armenia as a result clashes began between them and clashes continued on and off until both the countries gained independence in 1991.

In year 1991 held a referendum over the creation of independent state. The majority of those who went to the referendum polls voted in the favor of independence however, most of the Azerbaijanis living in Karabakh boycotted the referendum and declared it as illegitimate.

Following the referendum, the conflict escalated into a dreadful war between Azerbaijan and Armenia resulting in at least 30000 casualties and the deportation of 1 million people from both sides by the end of war in 1993.

Armenian forces gained control of Nagorno-Karabakh and areas adjacent to it.

In May 1994 Russia acted as a mediator to resolve conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia which resulted in an unofficial ceasefire. After the ceasefire Nagorno-Karabakh remained part of Azerbaijan.

In support of Azerbaijan Turkey shut its border with Armenia during the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Former president of Turkey Azeri Heydar once described the two (Turkey- Azerbaijan) as “One nation with two states, Meanwhile Armenia has a good relation with Russia, Armenia haven created a joint-military base in Armenia, and both countries are member of the Collective security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance.

In 2018, Armenia underwent a peaceful revolution, long-time ruler Serzh Sargyyan was overthrown from power. The protest leader Nikol Pashinyan became the prime minister after a free election. Mr. Pashinyan agreed with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to de-escalate tension and set up a military hotline between the two countries.

But in August 2019 in city of Karabakh Mr. Pashinyan told assembled crowd, “Artsakh is Armenia, full stop” Artsakh is Armenian name for Karabakh as a result the statement the fighting broke out in July 2020 on the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan 300 km (185 miles) away from Nagorno-Karabakh.

On 27 September 2020, serious clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh began, leading to Armenia declaring martial law and on the same day Azerbaijan’s parliament declared martial law and establishment of curfew in several cities. The clashes were worst since the 1994 ceasefire and attract the international community's attention.

Drone and Azerbaijan Victory

The Azerbaijan drones were magic bullet, Azerbaijan forces used sophisticated method, their strategy was based on advanced drone technology.

Azerbaijan took a biplane with a single propeller engine and converted it into unmanned single-use drones, so converted aero planes into unmanned aerial vehicles.

By replacing the pilot with a kit that allows remote control, the drones have turned the hostilities from a bloody, bare knuckled ground fight waged with infantry and soviet-era ordnance into a deadly game of hide and seek.

Azerbaijan was the clear military victor. Drones of Turkish, Israeli and indigenous designs performed both reconnaissance mission to support artillery use and strike mission. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and loitering munition attack were able to destroy heavy ground units, including T-72 tanks and advanced S-300 air defenses. The conflict’s use of these various weapon provides important information and insight into how modern wars will be employed in the growing spectrum of missiles, drones and artillery.

The Drone Revolution

The term “drone “refer” to any unpiloted aircraft. Sometimes referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), these craft can carry out range of task, ranging from military operation to package delivery. Various origin of the word have been suggested. It could have emerged as a term descriptive of the ‘dull and dry’ reconnaissance work performed in early in its history. It has also been traced to the target drone ‘Fairy Queen’, the success of which led to the creation of the ‘Queen Bee’ Drones. The first ever time the term drone was used in 1936 report by Lieutenant Commander Delmer Fahrney of the US Navy who was in charge of a radio- controlled unmanned aircraft project. As is evident from the origin, the term drone has been associated with the military in the popular imagination, and carry a negative connotation because they have been used to kill remotely. However, these association are slowly changing as drones are increasingly used in a civilian setting.

Drones is in popular usage; drones were previously called ‘pilotless aircraft’. This term was used in article 8 of Chicago Convention of Drones and the challenge for law maker.

History of drones

In 1818, a French solider designed an aerial balloon that would use a delay to float over enemies and launch a rocket down on top of them. In 1849, Austrian launched 200 pilotless balloons to bomb Venice during their siege of the city.

1863, two year after the start of American Civil war, a New York- based inventor, Charles Parley, invented the ‘Parley Aerial Bomber’, a hot-air balloon that carried explosive and was connected to a timing device.

The origin of the modern-day drone can be traced to the First World War in which drones were created as target practice by British army. In 1918, Charles Franklin at Delco (such company later renamed General Motors), successfully flew a more sophisticated unmanned aircraft’, an aerial torpedo, called the Kettering Bug which could strike at 120 kilometers distances, travel at 80 kmph and carry 136 kilograms of bomb over short distance.

The second World war necessitated commercial level production of low- cost radio- controlled planes as target practice. The Radio plane company built around close to 15000, target practice drones named 0Q-2 for the US army. These drones were launched with a catapult and recovered with a parachute.

During the Cold War the use of drones was primarily focused on surveillance and reconnaissance.The Lightning Bug, a drone in the Ferebee series, could be controlled or could fly over pre-programmed routes. These drones were used for spying on Cubs, China and North Korea. And drones for reconnaissance were used on a large scale during the Vietnam War.

During the post-Cold War era, drones have been used in the global war on terror for targeted attacks on humans. Al Qaeda leader was blown up by a CIA Predator drone the US Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have, from as early as 1995, used Predator drones for both reconnaissance and combat in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Somalia. In some of these countries, targeted attacks were conducted in non-conflict situations

The challenges for law maker

The increased use of drones for multifaceted applications has presented many countries with regulatory challenges. Such challenges include the need to ensure that drones are operated safely, without harming public and national security, and in a way that would protect areas of national, historical, or natural importance, in keeping pace with technology in current scenario drones are used for a variety of purpose. They are being used by police for forensic examination of crime scene and for special emergency responses in high risk and significant operation. They are also being used for the filming of sporting operation and making documentaries. They are being used for border patrol, traffic surveillance, pipeline control, port security, food mapping, forest and fire rescue, high-altitude imaging, humanitarian aid, environmental monitoring and mapping, atmospheric monitoring, soil moisture, agricultural application and much more,

The scope of drone is growing year by year but along with-it growing challenges for the law maker also drone pose significant regulatory challenges. The various regulatory regimes for drones, both international and domestic, are still evolving. The current state of development of these regulatory regimes are: -

International regulations

Chicago convention and ICAO

Article 8 of the Chicago convention regulates ‘pilotless aircraft’. As set out in Article 8, in order for a pilotless aircraft to fly over a contacting state according to the Chicago convention, special authorization will be required from the state. Further, when flying over areas open to civil aircraft, contacting state must prevent pilotless aircraft from endangering civil aircraft.

As drones are a species of aircraft many articles of Chicago convention are applicable to it. For e.g Article 36, in allowing the contacting state to prohibit or regulate the use of photographic apparatus in aircraft over its territory, may also apply to drones. Drones are also capable of being regulated by ICAO which is mandated to regulate matter concerned with safety, regularity, and aviation of air navigation (Article 37 Chicago convention).

International Conventions

Treaties are fundamental to the regulation of aviation at an international level. Such treaties typically do not refer to drones. However, a broad interpretation of aircraft as adopted by ICAO brings drones within the scope of relevant international treaties.

Significant instruments relating to civil aviation which also may be applicable to drones include the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by air (Warsaw Convention), Convention Damage Caused by Foreign Aircraft to Third parties on Surface 1952 (Rome Convention), Convention on offence and Offence and Certain Other Act Committed on Board Aircraft 1964 (Tokyo Convention) and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Act against the Safety of Civil Aviation 1971 (Montreal Convention).

European Regulation

EU regulation EC 216/2008 provides a mandate to EASA to regulate drones that are 150 kilogram and above. EC 216/2008 regulates significant areas of aviation such as air worthiness, operation licensing and certification. Further, the EU has adopted a geo-fencing system that prevents drones from entering into certain areas. Drones can also be regulated under Directive 2009/48 EC which regulate the safety of toys including flying toys.

Limitation of Regulation

Articles in the Chicago Convention that may apply to drones were clearly aimed at manned aircraft. Therefore, applying those articles to drones could result in compliance being impractical or inappropriate. For example, Article 29 requires that every aircraft carry on board certain paper originals of documents such as a certificate of registration and certificate of airworthiness. This may be practically impossible for many kinds of drones. Article 31 requires that every aircraft has to obtain a certificate of airworthiness from its state of registration. However, the criteria for what constitutes airworthiness may differ for drones.

The international conventions that apply to drones are limited in their ability to effectively regulate drones. For example, although the Warsaw Convention, by virtue of applying to aircraft, most likely applies to drones, Article 17 of the convention is unlikely to be applicable to drones at this stage of the technology’s development because it relates to death or injury of passengers on board or in the process of embarking or disembarking. Similarly, The Hague Convention targets acts related to hijacking by people on board the aircraft. Therefore, it cannot regulate drones because at present the vast majority of drones do not carry any people on board.

The Montreal Convention, although applicable to drones because it is aimed at actions against the aircraft, is most likely to be ineffective to regulate civilian drones at present because it is only confined to the international arena. The Tokyo Convention is unlikely to apply because the Convention is aimed at criminalizing behavior of people on board.

The Future of Drones

Drones-related technology is developing exponentially and future developments in drone technology will have a significant impact on the aviation industry. The world is still the early days of drone development. Their capabilities will expand over the next few years; and society and law enforcement need to be aware of the threats that could deliver. Devices devolved for good reasons can be misappropriated for bad purpose.

The biggest single problem is that drones are not sufficiently regulated. No single agency has yet claimed overall authority to deliver the regulation necessary to prevent drones from becoming a serious threat within society.


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