Uzbek-Kazakh Drone Spat Turns Both Farcical And Serious
The story of the alleged incursion by an Uzbekistani drone into Kazakhstani airspace has taken a strange turn: The Kazakhstan government on Tuesday officially confirmed that the incursion happened, while aviation experts have cast doubt on the video that purports to show the drone, saying the "drone" appears to be a radio-controlled model.
The story was originally reported by Kazakhstani TV station KTK, which cited unnamed officials, But on Tuesday a spokesman for Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry, Altai Abibullaev, confirmed the incursion at a briefing:
"Staff of the Committee of National Security border troops confirmed that violation by an Uzbek UAV violated [Kazakhstan's] airspace. The relevant services in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are negotiating with each other. Official information on the incident was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [of Uzbekistan]," he said. "I think that as a result of these joint efforts the Kazakh side will be further informed," concluded Abibullaev.
But evidence also emerged Thursday that the video that KTK aired showing the "drone" may not have been what it appeared. The aviation blog The DEW Line picked up the story. Its readers looked over the video, and seem to have come to the consensus that it's a radio-controlled model, possibly this one, on sale for $125. They point to the erratic movement of the drone in the air, in addition to the buzz of an electric motor audible in the video, which suggest that it is a radio-controlled model, not a military UAV. "[T]he aerodynamic movement has zero correlation to a MALE [medium-altitude long-endurance] UAS [unmanned aerial system] even if it was flying at low altitude," wrote Peter La Franchi, the unmanned aviation editor of Flight International. "The footage is effectively a hoax; whether there was an incursion by an actual UAS is a different question entirely."
It should be noted that the foreign ministry statement did not mention the video, and even KTK's original report (which you can see below) did not describe any context for the video. Was this some sort of crude attempt at a re-enactment by KTK? Or by someone in the Kazakhstan government? I've asked for more information from the Kazakhstan foreign ministry, but haven't yet heard back.Aside from that farce, the bigger issue is whether Uzbekistan is operating a secret drone program. If we take Kazakhstan's statement at face value, it's a pretty striking development, and one that is sure to increase the already considerable mistrust Uzbekistan's neighbors have for it. Of course, we shouldn't hold our breath waiting for a complete debriefing by the Uzbekistan MoD, but we'll follow the story as it develops.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.