Israeli defense company Aeronautics seals $13m. drone deal with Azerbaijan

Israel's defense ministry reinstated the company’s export licenses two weeks ago.

The Orbiter 1K drone. (photo credit: AERONAUTICS)
The Orbiter 1K drone.
(photo credit: AERONAUTICS)
Two weeks after its export licenses were reinstated, the Israeli defense company Aeronautics has announced that it won a multi-million dollar contract with Azerbaijan.
The two-year contract is worth $13 million and will see maintenance work for the Orbiter drones sold to a key client, according to a company statement.
The Orbiter 1K is a loitering suicide drone capable of carrying a 1-2 kg. explosive payload. The vehicle-mounted unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, is highly transportable and can fly for up to three hours carrying a multi-sensor camera with day and night capabilities.
After being launched from a catapult, the Orbiter 1K can independently scan an area, detect and then destroy a moving or stationary target. In case the target isn’t detected, the system’s recovery capability allows it to return to base and land by using a parachute and airbag.
Aeronautics had its export licenses suspended by the Defense Ministry in 2017, after a report by The Jerusalem Post’s sister newspaper Maariv revealed that representatives from the company who were in Azerbaijan to finalize a contract for the sale of its Orbiter 1K UAV, were asked to strike an Armenian military position.
While many details of the case remain under a court-issued gag order, 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.
Following the surfacing of the report, the Defense Ministry suspended the company’s marketing and export permit for the company’s Orbiter 1K model UAV. The Israel Police’s Unit of International Crime Investigations, the Defense Ministry’s investigation unit and the State Attorney’s Office also launched an investigation into the incident.
Aeronautics – which opened a factory in Azerbaijan to build the company’s Aerostar and Orbiter UAVs in 2011 – has denied any wrongdoing in the case.
The central Asian country, which borders Iran, has become the main supplier of crude oil to Israel. It has also become a major recipient of Israeli military hardware in recent years. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute placed Azerbaijan as the third-largest consumer of Israeli arms, having bought $137m. worth in 2017.
In January, Israel’s Elbit Systems sold Azerbaijan its SkyStriker UAV, which is capable of long-range, precision “kamikaze” strikes.
The SkyStriker has been described by Elbit Systems as a “silent, invisible, and surprise attacker [that] delivers the utmost in precision and reliability, providing a critical advantage in the modern battlefield.”
In 2016, during a flare-up of violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, it was reported that Baku used suicide drones against Armenian targets, including targeting a bus with an Israeli-made Harop drone, killing seven soldiers.
Shortly after the incident, Armenia’s Ambassador Armen Melkonyan delivered a formal protest to Israel over the weapons, stressing that it was Jerusalem’s obligation to ensure that Israeli weapons systems did not take part in attacks by either side.
“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,” Melkonyan wrote.
Nagorono-Karabakh is internationally recognized as being part of Azerbaijan. However, a large part is governed by separatists who seized control of the mountainous region with the Azerbaijan’s backing in a war in the 1990s.