In the first sale of its kind, Israeli defence company Elbit Systems has sold a "suicide drone" to Azerbaijan.
Elbit Systems – a drone manufacturer which sells weapons to the Israeli military – sold its SkyStriker drone to Azerbaijan, making the Caucasian country the first non-Israeli recipient of the weapon.
The SkyStriker drone is known as a "suicide drone" or "kamikaze drone" due to its ability to destroy a target on impact. According to the Jerusalem Post, the drone travels at a speed of 100 knots (185.2 kilometres per hour), meaning it can cover 20 kilometres in just over six minutes while locating its target. It carries "a 5kg [kilogramme] warhead" and is "silent", allowing it to hover un-manned until an attack is launched. Then, operators of the drone can programme it to dive towards the target at a speed of up to 300 knots (555.6 kilometres per hour), destroying the target on impact.
The Jerusalem Post estimates that as many as ten of these lethal weapons have been sold to Azerbaijan, citing pictures released by the AzeriDefence website. The site adds that Azerbaijan's State Border Service (SBS) purchased the SkyStriker drone from Elbit Systems and presented it to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during his visit to the SBS base yesterday.
Though Azerbaijan has become the first recipient of the SkyStriker drone, this is not the first time it has bought unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from an Israeli defence company.
In December 2016 – during a visit to Azerbaijan by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – President Aliyev revealed that "so far the contracts between Azerbaijani and Israeli companies with respect to purchasing defence equipment have been close to $5 billion".
One of these contracts seemingly included the sale of an Israeli suicide drone – called Harop and made by Israel Aerospace Industries – to Azerbaijan. The Harop drone was captured on film in April 2016 flying over Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region that has been the site of tensions between neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1991. Azerbaijan has not tried to hide its use of Israeli UAVs during its 2016 war in the province, despite the fact that Harop drones are thought to have left seven Armenian soldiers dead in an attack on a bus.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) placed Azerbaijan as the third largest consumer of Israeli arms, having bought $137 million worth of materiel in 2017, the Jerusalem Post added.
Elbit Systems is no stranger to selling its weapons and products to controversial clients. In 2017 it emerged that surveillance software made by the company was used in an espionage campaign targeting Ethiopian dissidents. A report by Canadian-research institute Citizen Lab found evidence that Ethiopian dissidents in Britain and the US were targeted with emails trying to infect their computers with surveillance tools. Once infected, the software can extract a wide variety of information from computers, including emails, passwords, audio conversations and screenshots.
Elbit Systems is one of the many companies which contributes to making Israel one of the biggest arms exporters in the world. A March 2018 report by SIPRI placed Israel in seventh place, behind the US and Russia. Yet despite its arms export power, Israel has been careful not to compete with the US – its biggest ally – recently allowing a $500 million deal with Croatia to collapse after Washington protested the sale. Director-General of the Israeli Defence Ministry, Udi Adam, was yesterday forced to apologise to Croatia for not being able to sign the deal, which would have seen Israel supply the Balkan country with F-16 Barak fighter jets. The US reportedly objected to the sale on the grounds that Israel's upgrades to the F-16s made the planes more attractive to buyers than their US counterparts, thus causing the Israel-Croatia talks to collapse.