The "knowledge base" functions in JIRA Service Desk are basically a link to some functions in Confluence, so yes, you need Confluence to be able to use them, and that means getting a Confluence install and licence.
Although, you could keep the numbers low if you use "anonymous" read-only access to the Knowledge Base space(s) and only licence your service desk agents with edit/updates.
you don't need confluence licenses to read knowledge base articles from the service desk.
The linked article is opened in a pop-up and it's no real access to the system.
So the user must be servicedesk customer but nothing else.
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