No, drones haven’t made tanks obsolete

Wrecked armor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was down to bad training and terrain, not magical technology

In 1897, the American author Mark Twain replied in a letter to a London journalist, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” The same applies to the recent claims of the death of the tank, and by implication all major armored vehicles.

The overinflated claims of both sides in the recently reignited two-week-long fight between Azerbaijan and Armenia in their long-standing conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region have caused a rash of new claims of the tank’s demise. The social media battlefield is hotly disputed between both sides, with each posting videos of the destruction they’ve caused to the other side’s armor. These would indeed be stunning claims—if they were true. As of this week Armenia was claiming that the forces it supports destroyed literally a division’s worth of tanks, while Azerbaijan asserted a more qualified total of a division’s worth of “tanks and amphibious vehicles.”

The rumor mill created the tales of Twain’s death out of the illness of an English cousin of his. It’s now spinning at full speed over the Armenia-Azerbaijan fight. Both sides are deploying numerous digital stills and videos to support their extraordinary claims of the numbers of opposing armored vehicles destroyed in battle. Taken at face value, this seems to point to an obvious conclusion: Tanks (and other protected vehicles) cannot last, as they are death traps on a modern battlefield dominated by cheap drones. This is wrong.

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The tank may die, but the fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh region doesn’t offer any evidence of an incoming demise. At the core of the issue are three battlefield elements—training, terrain, and tactics—and one underpinning fallacy: the false assumption that new technology, in particular the much-touted rise of unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, trumps the old technology of the armored vehicle.

Azerbaijani and Armenian claims that they destroyed mechanized systems in huge numbers using drones are vacuous. One need not look too deep to realize that the press releases on both sides are flatly ridiculous, rather like the World War II U.S. Army Air Forces claims of how many German fighters their bombers shot down.

Read more: Foreign Policy