On Sept. 15, a new discovery linked an unmanned Azeri drone downed this week by the Nagorno Karabagh Republic (NKR) Defense Army to a U.S. Defense company that manufactures signal distribution products, raising questions about potential violations of U.S. arms export laws.
The NKR Army had downed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)—a drone—early on Mon., Sept. 13, saying it had violated Karabagh airspace and that Azeri Air Force activity had “visibly increased” recently along the Karabagh-Azerbaijan border.
A close review of a video of the drone wreckage released by the NKR Army revealed that Colorado-based GPS Source Inc., which manufactures and sells signal distribution products, was the maker of a GPS splitter that made up the downed drone. The GPS splitter allows a single GPS antenna to be shared between multiple GPS receivers.
An earlier examination of the video revealed that the Canadian-based company NovAtel, which has offices in Texas, was the manufacturer of the GPS antenna used on the drone.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) has called on the State Department to look into whether the use of the NovAtel-manufactured components warrants an investigation into potential violations of U.S. arms export laws.
“…We are especially troubled by the prospect that Azerbaijan’s military escalation, threats of violence, and actual aggression may be, directly or indirectly, fueled by U.S. defense articles, in violation of U.S. law, and in a manner contrary to the American people’s commitment to a peaceful settlement of conflicts in the Caucasus and around the world,” ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian told Hillary Clinton in a letter dated Sept. 14.
Azerbaijani media outlets meanwhile released a brief statement by the Defense Ministry denying any role in the drone flights: “Azerbaijan has nothing to do with an unmanned aerial vehicle that crashed in Armenian-occupied Nagorno-Karabagh.”
NKR President Bako Sahakian on Sept. 15 told RFE/RL, through a spokesperson, that the UAV reconnaissance flight constituted a serious violation of the cease-fire agreement.
“First of all, the [Azerbaijani] aggressor will now feel more restrained because the destruction of such military hardware also shows the extent of the technical sophistication of our army. That will certainly have a quite sobering impact on Baku’s behavior,” Sahakian’s press secretary, Davit Babayan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Babayan said the downed drone was proof of continued violations by Azerbaijan, and called on Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors to expand the scope of their ceasefire monitoring missions.
RFE/RL suggested the drones were a product of a joint Azeri-Israeli venture (a plant, opened in Baku in March, assembles Israeli-designed drones for the Azeri armed forces) and added that the Azeri military has reportedly purchased such aircraft from Israel and Turkey.
According to Colonel Nikolay Babayan, the commander of Armenia’s air-defense forces, NKR Army units used special “radioelectronic” equipment to shoot down the spy plane. “It is very difficult to hit and even locate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) because they are made of special composite materials,” Babayan told Panorama.am on Sept. 14. “But we managed to do that by using special devices.”
The official did not specify the type of anti-aircraft weapon that was reportedly used to down the UAV. He said only that Azeri drones regularly carry out reconnaissance flights near Karabagh.
“This time, the UAV violated the border, as a result of which its flight was ended by the joint work of our air-defense troops and radioelectronic forces,” Babayan said.