The short war that allowed Azerbaijan to reclaim the Nagorno-Karabakh lost to Armenia in the early 1990s did not make the headlines. But it was followed with great interest by the staffs of the planet. The quick and decisive victory for Azerbaijan has been attributed by scholars to its use of drones armed with missiles and “kamikaze drones” targeted at Armenia’s Russian-made anti-aircraft defenses. The result was devastating: 47% of its armor and 93% of its artillery were destroyed or damaged, much of it by Bayraktar TB2 drones supplied by Turkey. There is a Quebec and Canadian angle to this affair. I will come back to this later.
This conflict in the Caucasus confirmed the primacy of unmanned aircraft in the wars to come. In a blog from earlier this year, I noted that the Iranians believed they had equipped themselves with an unstoppable air strike force made up of drones and missiles attacking in swarms. In 2019, Saudi Arabia’s oil production was temporarily halved by such an attack claimed by pro-Iranian Yemeni rebels, but which was evidently orchestrated by Tehran.
Israeli military experts also believed that no military force in the world had found an effective way to intercept a multitude of unmanned aircraft acting in close coordination. The Israelis have since made significant efforts to develop countermeasures. Over the past few weeks, they have been carrying out, together with the United States, a major exercise against such attacks.
But back to the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones, which were instrumental in the defeat of Armenia. Guess what? They are equipped with a light aircraft variant of the Rotax snowmobile engine manufactured by Bombardier Recreational Products (PRB). As soon as the Armenians made the information public, BRP announced the suspension of sales of Rotax 914 engines from its Austrian subsidiary to Turkey, claiming that the company was not aware that its technology was being used in the conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh. Astonishing! Bombardier says it has also suspended the delivery of the Rotax engine to countries that make “unclear use”. It is to be verified.
Surprised, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, François-Philippe Champagne, suspended the relevant export licenses to Turkey “the time to better assess the situation”. The Bayraktar TB2 was also equipped with target designation systems produced in Ontario by L3Harris WESCAM.
The Turks are not the only ones to equip their combat drones with engines inspired by those which power our Ski-Doos. A Pakistani military site posted photos showing Iranian combat drones equipped with Bombardier Rotax 914 engines or versions hacked in Iran. To see the analytical photo of the similarities, click here.
And there is the case of the Chinese Wing Loong (Pterodactyl 3) combat drone which has also been flying a Rotax 914 engine for years. Is it possible that Minister Champagne was never informed?
Wing Loong can be armed with air-to-surface missiles, laser guided bombs, anti-personnel bombs, and miniature guided bombs. It is, among others, used by the Chinese, Saudi, Egyptian, Pakistani and Emirati military air forces, countries which regularly use it in conflict situations. The Libyan rebel forces of General Khalifa Haftar make extensive use of Wing Loong drones provided by the United Arab Emirates.
But what is the new Canadian military intelligence service doing, which aimed to become one of the major players in intelligence, not only in Canada, but around the world? It’s part of his mission to find out that these little Rotax engines weren’t just used to power snowmobiles or small planes, but combat drones.
I suspect we had known for a long time about their military use, but hoped it wouldn’t become public.
Yes I know. I am a cynical and disillusioned journalist.