Azerbaijani Armed Forces to receive 60 new UAVs by the end of 2011
The Armed Forces of the Republic of Azerbaijan will take delivery of 60 license-built tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by the end of 2011. As Rashad Suleymanov of the Azeri Press Agency (APA) recently reported (see http://goo.gl/sfUa7), the Israeli-designed small unmanned aircraft are currently being manufactured and assembled by the Baku-based Azad Systems Company, a joint venture between the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence Industry (MDI) and Israeli UAV manufacturer Aeronautics Defense Systems.
Aeronautics, which is Israel’s third-largest UAV manufacturer after IAI and Elbit Systems, provided Azerbaijan with its Aerostar and Orbiter 2M UAV systems. The Orbiter 2M mini UAV operates at a height of 4 to 6 kilometres with a maximum of 5 hours in flight. The somewhat larger Aerostar UAV provides the Azerbaijani Army with situational awareness from a height of approximately 10 kilometres and offers an endurance of up to 12 hours.
Azad Systems currently manufactures these UAVs at its Baku facility and plans to deliver 60 of the small aircraft to the Armed Forces by the end of this year. The latter will use the aircraft primarily for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) purposes. However, Azerbaijani Minister of Defence Industry Yavar Jamalov told APA that the country is also considering the production of armed UAVs that could actively engage ground targets. According to the Minister, this project is scheduled to be implemented within the next two years.
Suleymanov told defpro.com that the technical characteristics of licence-built UAVs are very similar to the original Israeli design. While 30 per cent of the equipment is being manufactured in Azerbaijan, the majority of the systems’ elements are being produced abroad and delivered to Azerbaijan for final assembly.
Azerbaijan launched studies on the domestic production of UAVs in late 2009. According to APA, several Turkish companies, including TAI, Baykar Makina and Global Teknik, as well as Israeli companies, submitted proposals for a joint production. The Azerbaijani MDI’s decision in favour of Israeli designs, supported by the fact that armed forces’ already operate Israeli-built UAVs, resulted in the establishment of Azad Systems in March 2011.
While Israeli-Turkish relations are currently experiencing tough times, Israel’s defence industry has closely worked with the small but oil-rich Muslim country located by the Caspian Sea during recent years. The bilateral ties have flourished, in particular, since Azerbaijan became one of the largest crude-oil suppliers to Israel in 2006. Defence programmes with a major involvement of Israeli industries include communications and satellite systems, as well as artillery systems and UAVs.
The Azerbaijani Armed Forces already operate Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 and IAI’s Searcher reconnaissance UAVs, as well as a number of Aeronautics’ Aerostar and Orbiter UAVs. Some of the Armed Forces’ unmanned assets were displayed during a military parade in Baku in June 2011.
Due to country’s long-standing dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, which was occupied by Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh War that ended in 1994, Azerbaijan is undertaking great efforts to modernise its armed forces. To accomplish this aim, the relatively small country is seeking close industrial co-operation with regional and international partners in all major sectors of defence manufacturing. Among the most important partners are Turkey and Israel. However, countries such as the Czech Republic (modernisation of Azerbaijan’s L-29 and L-30 aircraft) and South Africa are also involved in important modernisation programmes.
Azerbaijan’s antagonist, Armenia, has also engaged in the national production of UAVs. Among the results of this effort is the Armenian-made Krunk drone, which was presented to the public during a military parade in Yerevan on September 21 dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union.