BAKU —Azerbaijan is expected to acquire 60 small Israeli-designed unmanned aerial vehicles built under license in the oil-rich former Soviet republic that’s moving closer to the Jewish state as the Baku government modernizes its military.
The burgeoning military and intelligence alliance between the countries is causing growing concern in Iran, Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, and in nearby longtime rival Armenia.
The Israeli Aerostar and Orbiter 2M UAVs are being manufactured by Baku’s Azad Systems Co., a joint venture between Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry and Aeronautics Defense Systems of Israel.
That’s the country’s third largest UAV manufacturer after Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems.
Around 70 percent of the components are produced in Israel, the rest in Azerbaijan.
Sixty of the drones are to be delivered to Azerbaijan’s armed forces by the end of the year, primarily for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
Azerbaijan’s military already operates Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 and IAI’s Searcher reconnaissance drones, as well as some of Aeronautics Defense Systems’ Aerostar and Orbiter craft.
Azerbaijan Minister of Defense Industry Yavar Jamalov told the Azerbaijan Press Agency earlier this month that Baku is considering the production of missile-armed UAVs within the next two years, a development guaranteed to deepen Iranian and Armenian concerns.
The UAV deal with Azerbaijan allows Israeli manufacturers to pick up some of the slack that appeared when Israel’s strategic military alliance with Turkey collapsed in 2010.
APA reported that Aeronautics Defense Systems beat out several Turkish defense firms, including TAI, Baykar Makina and Global Teknik, for the UAV venture set up in March.
Azerbaijan, which lies in the energy-rich Caspian Basin, has oil reserves of more than 1.2 billion barrels as well as 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It is one of Israel’s largest suppliers of crude oil.
Earlier this month, Israel’s air force marked the 40th anniversary of the formation of its first UAV unit, Squadron 200 at the Palmachim Air Base on the Mediterranean coast south of Tel Aviv from where IAI satellites are launched.