Drone "Orbiter" of Serbian army manufactured by Aeronautics Defense Systems..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Defense Ministry is checking reports that the Israeli firm Aeronautics Defense Systems had been asked by Azerbaijan to carry out a live demonstration of an armed unmanned aerial vehicle against an Armenian military position.
The Israeli daily Maariv reported on Sunday that a team belonging to the Israeli defense company arrived in Azerbaijan to finalize a contract for the sale of its Orbiter 1K UAV when they were asked to strike the position. According to the report the two Israelis operating the UAV refused to hit the position and senior representatives of the company took control and operated the craft themselves, ultimately missing their targets.
The Defense Ministry said that while “as a rule, the Defense Ministry does not make it a practice to comment on issues involving military exports the claim is being examined by the relevant parties at the ministry.”
Aeronautics Defense Systems for their part strongly denied that the event ever occurred telling The Jerusalem Post
that “Aeronautics never performs demonstrations using live fire and that was true in this case as well” and that the operation of the craft is carried out by the purchaser and whatever occurs is the purchaser’s responsibility.
Aeronautics’s Orbiter 1K is a loitering suicide drone capable of carrying a 1 to 2 kg. special explosive payload.
“Aeronautics markets its products to customers in about 50 different countries,[and] only in accordance with approval from the Defense Export Controls Agency,” the statement from the company added.
The Central Asian country which borders Iran is one of the main suppliers of crude oil to Israel and has become a major recipient of Israeli military hardware in recent years. In 2012 Jerusalem and Baku signed a $1.4 billion deal which focused on drones and missile defense systems. A year earlier Aeronautics opened a factory in Azerbaijan to build the company’s Aerostar and Orbiter UAVs.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have had a long-standing dispute over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and violence has in recent years led to the deaths of dozens of soldiers. Nagorno-Karabakh is located within Azerbaijan and it is internationally recognized as being part of that country but a large part of it is governed by separatists who seized control of the mountainous region backed by Yerevan in a war in the 1990s.
Despite a cease-fire signed by the two foes in 1994 the two have never signed a peace treaty and during the last flare-up between the two countries last year it was reported that Azerbaijan had used suicide drones against Armenian targets including a Harop drone made by Israel Aerospace Industries killing seven Armenian soldiers when it hit a bus they were traveling in.
Armenian Ambassador Armen Melkonian later delivered a formal protest to Israel over the weapons and Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On demanded that then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon stop the delivery of Israeli drones to Baku until Jerusalem receives a clear commitment that Israeli weapons will not be used against Armenia.
“Armenia and Azerbaijan are both friendly to Israel and it is inconceivable that Israeli weapons be used in a war between the two countries over the Nagorno-Karabakh region,” she wrote shortly after the incident with the Harop UAV stressing that “it is Israel’s obligation to ensure that weapons it manufactures do not contribute to igniting the land which is burning anyway, and not to take part in attacks by either side.”
According to a report in the Vestnik Kavkaza news site, Azer Mammadov, senior adviser to Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Minister Yavar Jamalov, said that the use of UAVs by both sides has led Baku to increase its “acquisitions and joint developments from and with Israel.”
The report also quoted Mammadov as saying local manufacturer AZAD is producing the Zarba-1K based on Aeronautics’s Orbiter-K which “due to its very low acoustic signature [...] is not detectable until two seconds before diving into the attack.”
Mammadov stated that the testing of the Zarba-1K is expected to be completed within “a few months after which we plan to field 100 of them.”