In the fighting for Nagorno-Karabakh, and primarily in the skies above, Azerbaijan evidently has the air superiority.
This is predominantly thanks to Israeli drones, even though the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 take most of the credit, since they receive most of the media attention.
Regardless, below is a list of the most used Israeli-made UAVs that Azerbaijan employs, with the information drafted by Militarizm.su, in the two parts of its analysis on the topic. The text below is based on the data articles by Militarizm.su.
Since the “April war” of 2016, the armed forces of Azerbaijan regularly use not only reconnaissance UAVs, but also loitering munition UAVs. After that, the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan posts spectacular video footage of the exact defeat of enemy targets to the delight of its supporters.
In fact, a real “drone war” is going on over Karabakh, in which Azerbaijan, which has great financial resources, demonstrates a noticeable superiority.
While poor (in all senses) Armenia is forced, as it is called “on the knee,” to use its own samples of UAVs based on purchased components and its own developments, Azerbaijan bought many different types of UAVs from Israel, set up to assemble some of them in its own factories.
It turned out to be not so easy to understand the types of drones in service with Azerbaijan, but it’s worth a try.
The “era of unmanned aerial vehicles” began in Azerbaijan in 2008, when the first Israeli drones Aerostar, Orbiter-2M and Hermes-450 were purchased. At the same time, a contract was signed with Aeronautics Defense Systems for the licensed production of the first two models.
For the first time, the Israeli tactical reconnaissance drone Orbiter-2M was demonstrated at a parade in Baku on June 26, 2008, and a platform with a catapult was installed on the roof of a UAZ, it is likely that a simple control system was installed in the cabin.
At the same parade, the public was shown a larger UAV Aerostar of the same Israeli company Aeronautics Defense Systems. These drones were installed on camouflaged GAZ Sadko trucks in a four-wheel drive design with an incomprehensible body.
In 2011, the licensed assembly of Orbiter-2M under the name “Garangush” (Swallow) and Aerostar (“Shahin”) began at the Azad Systems enterprise set up for this in Baku, with the planned localization of production at 30%.
At the same time, it was announced that Azerbaijan intends to adopt 60 Orbiter-2M and Aerostar units.
The UAV Aeronautics Defense Systems Orbiter-2M is a light tactical drone weighing about 9.5 kg, the fuselage length is 1 meter, and the wingspan is 3 meters. The UAV is equipped with a low-noise electric motor and is able to stay in the air for 3-3.5 hours. The flight altitude is about 5.5 km, and the range is about 50 km.
In those years, parades in Azerbaijan were held unforgivably rarely – only on round dates, so the next one was only in 2011, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the country’s independence. Photographs of Orbiter-2M from this parade could not be found, but Aerostar UAVs were installed on board KAMAZ vehicles.
Developed by the Israeli company Aeronautics Defense Systems, the Aerostar UAV is an apparatus which is 4.5 meters long and has a 8.5 meter wingspan.
The maximum take-off weight of the drone is 220 kg, of which 50 kg is a removable payload, in the standard version is a digital camera combined with a thermal imager providing round-the-clock use.
Communication and data exchange facilities provide a range of 250 km.
The Aerostar is powered by a 29 kW Zanzottrra 498i diesel engine with which it can stay in the air for 12 hours. The maximum flight altitude is 5.5 km. An autonomous control center can be mounted on a vehicle.
At the next major parade in 2013, the results of military-technical cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel in the field of drones were presented by the same Orbiter-2M and Aerostar, possibly collected in Azerbaijan. Moreover, Orbiter-2M were installed on the chassis of Defender-110 jeeps.
It is worth mentioning that there are statements in the press that Azerbaijan purchased from 5 to 10 UAV Searcher-II, similar in characteristics and appearance, produced by another Israeli company – IAI (Israel Aircraft Industries).
There is no photo or video evidence of the purchase of Searcher-II by Azerbaijan was found.
Successful cooperation with Israeli Aeronautics Defense Systems within the Azad Systems enterprise allowed not to be limited to the production of 60 Orbiter-2M and Aerostar drones, although the further scale of production was not officially announced.
It is known about the beginning of assembly of new modifications of UAVs created by Aeronautics Defense Systems.
In particular, the modernized Aerostar, which received a wing with winglets that improve aerodynamics and, accordingly, fuel efficiency and flight duration.
The total number of Aerostar UAVs assembled at Azad Systems is unknown, some estimates can be made by the side numbers of the vehicles.
For example, the first known from photographs Aerostar with winglets has the number 212, numbers 214, 224, 233, 234 and 243 are also known.
The numbering system of Azerbaijani drones is not very clear, since there are other types of drones with numbers in the same range.
Perhaps it is end-to-end for all types of UAVs or only for the production of Azad Systems, so it is difficult to draw conclusions about the scale of supplies now, but there is no doubt that Aerostar UAVs are one of the most massive operational-tactical UAVs in Azerbaijan.
Along with operational-tactical drones, Israeli Aeronautics Defense Systems has continued to develop its tactical drones of the Orbiter family. First of all, Orbiter-2M underwent modernization, in particular, a satellite navigation antenna and a corresponding system were installed on it.
The next parade in Azerbaijan had to wait for five whole years – but in 2018 there were two of them in the same year – on June 26, the traditional parade in honor of the 100th anniversary of the armed forces, and on September 15, especially for “the friend Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan”, another parade was organized in “honor of the 100 anniversary of the liberation of Baku by the forces of the Caucasian Islamic Army and units of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic ”.
At these parades, the novelties of Azerbaijani unmanned aircraft were demonstrated, including the modernized Orbiter-2M and the new Orbiter-3, about which a little below.
In the fall of 2014, Aeronautics Defense Systems introduced a completely new tactical UAV – Orbiter-3.
The drone retained the silent electric motor, ejection takeoff and parachute landing, but unlike the drones of the previous series, it has become noticeably larger – the wingspan reached 4.2 meters, is able to stay in the air for 7 hours, and the communication equipment provides a range of 150 km. Flight speed – 130 km / h, flight height – 5.9 km.
The reconnaissance complex includes a cooled infrared night vision camera, a high-resolution daytime camera and a laser designator. The data transmission system is capable of transmitting encoded data to the ground at a rate of 10 megabytes per second and storing it on an onboard medium. It is claimed that the drone is resistant to hacking of the control system and can fly without using satellite navigation.
Obviously, the new tactical UAV quickly replaced the old Orbiter-2M on the Azad Systems assembly line as the main tactical drone, since already in the April 2016 battles, the Azerbaijani military demonstrated the wreckage of the shot down Orbiter-3 as a “shot down Armenian drone”.
Periodically military demonstrations are also held on the territory of Nakhichevan, separated from the main part of Azerbaijan, where in recent years a powerful strike group of the Azerbaijani army has been created, capable of striking from the rear to cut a narrow corridor connecting the territory of the main part of Armenia with the Iranian border. The same corridor is a critical logistical communication for Karabakh. At one of the shows in Nakhichevan, President Aliyev was also shown the Orbiter-3 reconnaissance complex mounted on a trailer.
Despite the fact that Orbiter-3 is one of the best tactical drones in the world and, thanks to an electric motor, is practically silent, in the July 2020 battles, the Armenians apparently managed to shoot down at least 3 such drones.
The Armenian side has posted photos of the downed Orbiter-3 from. As it can be seen, the UAV landing systems worked – one can see the parachute system’s halyard and the canopy lying in the distance, as well as the inflatable pillow that worked on the “back” (Orbiter-3 normally sits on the “back”).
Nevertheless, the drone was badly damaged – the wing console was destroyed and both winglets were broken off, the front stabilizer was torn off and the “ball” of the observation system was broken.
Despite the fact that the Azerbaijani army adopted a new modern UAV Orbiter-3, Aeronautics Defense Systems continued to improve the previous model Orbiter-2M and in September 2016 brought a new model of a small kamikaze drone Orbiter-1K to Baku at the ADEX-2016 military exhibition…
The attack drone is created in the body of the Orbiter-2M already mastered in production and has a weight of 10 kg, of which 2.5 kg is a warhead with 4000 tungsten submunitions. Launched from a catapult. Equipped with an electric motor, which provides a flight duration of 2-3 hours at a speed of 65-100 km / h, a flight altitude of 4.5 km.
With the Orbiter-1K – the kamikaze drone is reversible, and, if no suitable target is found, it calmly returns and descends by parachute, after which it can be prepared for departure again.
It is argued that Orbiter-1K is capable of autonomously filming a given area and independently, without a command from the control center, attack stationary and mobile targets in a given area. In one-way flight, the Orbiter-1K is capable of attacking a target at a range of 80-100 km.
The assembly of the Orbiter-1K under the designation Zerbe-1K (Zerbe – Impact) began at the Azad Systems plant in 2017.
However, in August 2017, the Israeli government temporarily suspended the Aeronautics Defense Systems export license for the supply of kamikaze drones to Azerbaijan in connection with the high-profile scandal associated with these drones.
The Israeli newspaper “Maariv” published a note that during the presentation of the Orbiter-1K UAV to a potential buyer in mid-summer 2017, the Azerbaijanis demanded a real blow to the Armenian positions in Karabakh.
The Israeli prosecutor’s office brought charges against the leadership of Aeronautics Defense Systems, but the company denied the use of its kamikaze UAV against the Armenians of Karabakh, stating that “it never held a demonstration against living targets, including in this case.”
It is difficult to say how the investigation of the Israeli prosecutor’s office ended, but apparently everything has settled down and the export of Orbiter-1K drone drones to Azerbaijan has continued safely.
Of course, the Israelis didn’t test their Orbiter 1K on Armenian targets, the Azerbaijanis tested the Zerbe 1K on Armenian targets, and the fact that these two drones are actually one and the same is beside the point.
Another drone that’s reportedly used by Azerbaijan is the ThunderB reconnaissance drone.
There is practically no information on the delivery of ThunderB reconnaissance drones to Azerbaijan by the Israeli company Bluebird Aero Systems. Moreover, it was never shown at parades, and in the videos of the Azerbaijani military they were also never shown.
However, one such drone with N205 fell into the hands of Armenians on April 2, 2016 during the so-called “April war”.
ThunderB is a tactical reconnaissance drone with a wingspan of 4 m and a fuselage length of 1.9 m. It is launched with a catapult, landing – parachute with an airbag.
The device is interesting in that it weighs 32 kg and can stay in the air for 16 to 24 hours. Apparently, it was this feature that attracted the attention of the Azerbaijani military, in comparison with the “electric” Orbiter-3, which otherwise has comparable characteristics and is assembled in Azerbaijan.
One Russian-language source said that “the power plant of the BlueBird ThunderB UAV is represented by an electric motor, which allows the device to reach a maximum travel speed of up to 120 km / h, while, thanks to the use of a special technology, the battery charge lasts for a very long period of being in the air” , this statement is highly doubtful and most likely a consequence of a careless translation.
At least Bluebird Aero Systems itself writes about “advanced fuel-injected engine”, in another English-language source – “The ThunderB UAV is powered by a digital electronic fuel injection (EFI) engine driving a pusher propeller” (equipped with a digital electronic injection engine driving a pusher propeller). That is, in both cases we are talking about an internal combustion engine with direct fuel injection.
In addition, the available rear photo of the ThunderB N205 also shows that it is much closer to an internal combustion engine – there are elements not typical for an electric motor – an air intake, some kind of pipe and a cutout for engine cooling.
Practice shows that miracles do not happen – a small drone cannot carry so many batteries to stay in the air for a day on electric traction.
Otherwise, ThunderB is a fairly standard drone with a speed of 60-130 km / h, a range of information transmission systems of 100-150 km, and a flight altitude of 4.85 km. The 3.5 kg gyro-stabilized payload includes a high-resolution daytime camera, thermal imager and laser designator.
During the hostilities in July 2020, the Armenian press declared another ThunderB destroyed, but another drone, SkyStriker, was identified in the bad photo in the report, so this statement was erroneous.
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