Murphy's Law: Pegasus 120 Survives Angry Armenians

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October 17, 2018: Azad, a state owned defense firm in Azerbaijan, has begun production of the Pegasus 120 octocopter UAV. Also available in a quadcopter UAV version. The octocopter model version weighs 120 kg (264 pounds) and can carry a payload of 75 kg (165 pounds) for ten kilometers and do it without human intervention (and regardless of electronic jamming). Smaller payloads can be carried longer distances. In other words, the Pegasus 120 is tremendously flexible. The max payload capability is described as a lifesaving feature when items (water, medical gear, ammunition) have to be delivered across obstacles in a hurry.

Azad builds, sells and services Pegasus 120 and other UAVs under license from Israeli UAV developer and manufacturer Aeronautics. Actually, Aeronautics owns part of Azad and was a major factor in creating Azad in 2011. Most of Aeronautics UAV sales go to government and police organizations but military sales are a significant part of their UAV business. The military UAVs have also got Aeronautics in trouble with the Israeli government which recently (August) decided to prosecute four Aeronautics executives over a July 2017 incident that involved a demonstration of the new Orbiter 1K UAV in Azerbaijan. That demo got out of control and resulted in the UAV being sent across the border at some Armenian soldiers and wounding two of them.

Details of how this happened got out and by August 2017 the Israeli Defense Ministry suspending the export license for Orbiter 1K Aeronautics had that allowed Azad to build and market it. This was the result of a complaint by Armenia that two of their soldiers were wounded when a UAV, coming across the border from Azerbaijan, fell near the soldiers and exploded. It didn’t take long to determine that the UAV was an Israeli designed Orbiter 1K.

At first, Azerbaijan denied the UAV was theirs but Israel, wanting to maintain good relations with Armenia (and their major ally, Russia) insisted on investigating further and found out what actually happened. There were still a lot of conflicting versions about what went on and the Israeli government felt suspending the export license (which could cost Aeronautics over $20 million) might help clear the air. That helped but it still took prosecutors a year to sort out who said what to who and did the illegal acts. Thus the recent indictments of the four Aeronautics executives. Azerbaijan conducted its own investigation but left it to Israeli prosecutors to do most of the work.

The incident involved a demonstration of a new model of the Orbiter 2 (the Orbiter 1K) that was introduced in 2015. The 1K was simply an Orbiter 2 equipped to carry a 2 two kg (4.4 pound) explosive charge and, on command from the operator, dive on a designated target and explode. One of the Azeri officers attending the demonstration asked that the Orbiter 1K actually hit a specific target and detonate. That was OK but as the demo was near the Armenian border the Azeri officer insisted that the test be performed on a target across the border in Armenia. The Israeli UAV operators refused to do it as they knew it was against the law. But two Aeronautics executives with some (but not enough) experience operating Orbiters took over and got the Orbiter 1K to crash near the designated target. That was just as well because no Armenians were killed but two were wounded and the wreckage could be identified.

Azerbaijan is one of the few Moslem majority countries that is a regular customer for Israeli military equipment. Since 1992 Azerbaijan has bought about $5 billion dollars’ worth of Israeli weapons and military equipment. This includes a license to build (for internal use and export) the Israeli Orbiter line of UAVs and others as well. The partnership with Azad made it possible to export Israeli UAVs to other Moslem countries. There were many customers because the UAVs were Israeli technology but identified as “Made In Azerbaijan.” Most Moslem majority nations honor (some more than others) the Arab Boycott against Israel (over the Palestinian dispute). These days most Moslem nations despise the Palestinians and want to be on good terms with Israel. But it is still considered politically dangerous to buy from Israel. Buying from a Moslem nation like Azerbaijan is a different story.

Most of the weapons Azerbaijan was buying from Israel and elsewhere was to deal with a decade’s old territorial dispute with neighboring Armenia that flared into open warfare in the 1990s when Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent countries. Russia has helped broker a ceasefire and is promoting settlement talks. Russia also builds Israeli UAVs under license and also wants this matter settled.

The Israeli Orbiter 2 UAV weighs 9.5 kg (21 pounds) and its battery-powered motor can keep it in the air for about three hours per sortie. Maximum altitude is 3,200 meters and top speed is 120 kilometers an hour. Since the UAV can't operate more than 80 kilometers from the controller top speed is rarely needed. The Orbiter is launched by a catapult. It lands via parachute, is waterproof and floats. Orbiters are sold as “systems.” One of the three UAVs in each Orbiter system can be launched while the other has its battery replaced and the parachute repacked and be ready for another sortie in under ten minutes. The day/night vidcam transmits video back to the handheld controller, where the images can be stored. The Orbiter can also be used at sea, and Israel uses them on some of its patrol boats. One of the Orbiter export customers is Azerbaijan, which formed a joint venture to build Orbiter 2 in Azerbaijan. Pegasus 120 uses the same ground control equipment as Orbiter.

Despite the Orbiter 1K matter, Israel is still shipping high-tech gear to Azerbaijan. In 2016 Israel delivered the land-based version of its new Barak 8 SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) system to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan had ordered 12 launchers, 75 Barak 8 missiles and four search radars in 2013. The Barak 8 is a 275 kg (605 pound) missile with a 60 kg (132 pound) warhead and a range of 70 kilometers. The warhead has its own seeker that can find the target despite most countermeasures. The missiles are mounted in a three ton, eight cell container (which requires little maintenance), and are launched straight up. The compact (for easy installation on a ship) fire control module weighs under two tons. The land version has everything mounted in 6×6 cross-country trucks.

Israel let the Orbiter 1K be handled by Israeli courts and that was tolerable for Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

 


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