In March 2011 production began in a jointly-owned and operated Israeli (Aeronautics)-Azeri Defense Ministry facility in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Present at the official inauguration were the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, senior members of the Azerbaijan defense establishment, and Aeronautics’ owners and CEO, Avi Leumi.
Aeronautics, located in Yavne (35 kilometers south of Tel Aviv) focuses on UAV production. The company also has holdings in optics and communications factories and other areas, and is a strategic partner with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in various fields. The agreement between Aeronautics and the Azeri Defense Ministry on constructing a plant on Azerbaijani soil to manufacture and assemble UAVs was signed two years ago.
Aeronautics refuses to discuss its partnership in the enterprise, but from material published by the Azerbaijani government itself we learn that the joint facility is producing “Aerostar” drones (wingspan 7.5 meters) and “Orbiter” drones (wingspan 3 meters). Another UAV, “Dominator” (wingspan 13.5 meters), also appears scheduled for production.
The Israeli-Azeri partnership, that the Israeli Defense Ministry endorses, conforms to the special security relationship between the two countries. This isn’t the first business deal between Israel and Azerbaijan in military hardware. Israel has already sold it ground systems, such as mortars and rocket launchers. According to foreign reports, the two countries also cooperate on intelligence.
Israel sees Azerbaijan as a strategic ally. In addition to Azerbaijan’s shared border and protracted conflict with Iran, it is one of Israel’s main oil suppliers, furnishing it with one-quarter of its needs. Defense officials believe that the special relationship will be strengthened in the coming years.