Video of what appears to be an Israeli-made suicide drone flying over the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh, where Azerbaijan and Armenia have clashed in recent days, surfaced Tuesday, in what could be one of the first instances of such a weapon being used in combat.
The drone, based on its distinct wing shape and nose, looks like an Israeli Aerospace Industries Harop loitering munition. Unlike, for instance, a Predator drone armed with a Hellfire missile, the Harop itself is the munition and destroys a target by ramming into it.
According to the manufacturer’s website, the Harop can be remotely piloted or it can find targets autonomously based on radar or radio wave emissions. These two targeting methods are ideal for attacking enemy air defenses, as the smaller drone can evade weapons and detection systems designed to target much larger aircraft. The Harop is the second iteration of the Harpy drone. Unlike the Harop, the Harpy cannot be remotely piloted and it is autonomous after it is launched.
In this instance, the Harop apparently targeted a bus full of “Armenian volunteers,” killing seven, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, a spokesman for Armenia’s Defense Ministry, said in an interview with Ria Novosti, a Russian state-run media agency. Hovhannisyan also posted about the Harop on his Facebook page, according to local media reports, indicating that it was piloted by Azerbaijani forces.
— Joseph Dempsey (@JosephHDempsey) April 5, 2016
The Harop sighting came during heavy fighting across the line of contact separating the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. In 1991, a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out over the disputed territory. It resulted in the establishment of Nagorno-Karabakh as a quasi-independent Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan’s borders after a ceasefire was declared in 1994.
It is unclear how many countries use the Harop, although reports indicate that the drone has been sold to India and Azerbaijan. In a news release in June, Israeli Aerospace Industries said that “hundreds of [Harop] systems have been sold to different customers” and that the drone had “considerable sales potential.”
In recent months, Israeli surveillance drones have been spotted in Ukraine and Syria.