Israeli Kamikaze Drone Maker Carried Out Live Demo on Armenian Army Targets, Complaint Says

Israeli Defense Ministry probes allegation that Azerbaijan asked Aeronautics Defense Systems to demonstrate drone on military target. When the drone operators refused, managers attempted to carry out the test. The company denies the allegation

A sketch of the Orbiter 1k drone as shown on Aeronautics Defense Systems' website
A sketch of the Orbiter 1k drone as shown on Aeronautics Defense Systems' website Screen capture from aeronautics-sys.com

The Defense Ministry is examining whether the Israeli firm Aeronautics Defense Systems was asked to actually demonstrate the use of an armed unmanned aircraft in the Central Asian republic of Azerbaijan against a military position of the neighboring country of Armenia, with which Azerbaijan has a border dispute. The Israeli company denies the allegation.

The Defense Ministry recently received a complaint alleging that after a team from Aeronautics Defense Systems came to Azerbaijan seeking to finalize a contract for the sale of company's Orbiter 1K unmanned aircraft, they were asked to deploy the aircraft, armed with explosives, on a military position of the Armenian army.

The existence of the complaint was reported Sunday by the Israeli daily paper Maariv. For its part however, Aeronautics Defense Systems strongly denied that its staff carried out such a mission, saying that it was carried out by the purchaser of the aircraft, and the company "never carries out demonstrations [of the operations of the drone] on live targets, and that was true in this case as well."

Orbiter 1k simulation Practical Information

According to Maariv, the two Israeli operators of the craft refused to hit the Armenian position, and after remaining firm in their refusal even after threats directed against them, senior representatives of the company armed and operated the unmanned aircraft themselves. Ultimately the drones are said to have missed their targets, and no damage was caused, but according to the complaint, one of them struck at a distance of about 100 meters (330 feet) from the position.

The company's website states that the Orbiter 1k in is capable of carrying a special 1 to 2 kilogram (2.2 to 4.4 pound) special explosive payload. 

The complaint against the company was filed with the ministry's Defense Export Controls Agency, which is responsible for overseeing the activities of the country's defense contractors, certainly when it is demonstrating the use of such equipment.

The dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which has resulted in fighting over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, has resulted in the loss of life. In the past, it had been reported that an unmanned aircraft, including aircraft of the type that crash into their targets, was seen on the attack in Nagorno-Karabakh. In that case, the aircraft was a Harop model produced by Israel Aerospace Industries. In 2016, it was reported that a Harop hit a bus and killed seven Armenians.

Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, recently said that his country had purchased nearly $5 billion worth of military equipment from Israel. On a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Azerbaijan late last year, the Azeri president made note of the military cooperation between the two countries over many years. According to foreign reports, Israel has sold Azerbaijan radar and unmanned aircraft systems as well as Israeli Tavor rifles.

The Defense Ministry said in response: "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 stated: "Aeronautics markets its products to customers in about 50 different countries,[and] only in accordance with approval from the Defense Export Controls Agency. The operational action was carried out by the purchaser alone and on its responsibility. Aeronautics has never carried out demonstrations on live targets, and that was true in this case as well."