ISRAELI ACCESS TO INDIA’S DEFENCE SECTOR IS ‘AWESOME’
The Indian Air Force [IAF] is on the verge of finalising the long awaited Rs 1,800-crore deal for 18 Israeli Spyder-SR low-level quick reaction missile [LLQRM] systems to augment its depreciated air defence systems, further bolstering military ties between Delhi and Tel Aviv.
Official sources said the contract approved by the overarching Defence Acquisition Council [DAC] had been withheld following unresolved corruption allegations surrounding the Indian Navy’s Rs 1,160-crore purchase of 11 Israel Aircraft Industries [IAI]-Rafael built Barak-I ship borne area air-defence missile systems, eight years ago.
Ironically, the Spyder-SR LLQRM is also built by the IAI-Rafael combine; but with the Left parties, that vociferously opposed India’s proliferating military ties with Israel now out of the way, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s “unfettered” administration appears oblivious to adopting a principled stand against materiel purchases from Tel Aviv.
And this is one partnership that is guaranteed to grow backed as it is by burgeoning intelligence sharing, reciprocal visits by senior military commanders and officials, many of them clandestine, and joint weapon development programmes.
The Government recently revealed that India had concluded defence contracts with Israel worth $2.76 billion between 2002-2005, making Tel Aviv the second largest supplier of military equipment to Delhi after Russia.
This surprising revelation surrounding a military and strategic relationship that is highly classified and rarely ever talked about was made in a written reply to Parliament by former Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Ever since the two countries established formal diplomatic relations in 1992, Israel has not only supplied and contracted to provide India advanced military hardware, but is also closely involved in numerous upgrade and missile development programmes valued annually at around $900 million since 2002.
Officials privately conceded that Israel’s military sales compare favourably with the $1,500 million defence business India conducts each year with Moscow.
“With Russian defence supplies assailed by problems like cost escalation, contractual wrangling and unreliable after-sales backup, the era of friendship prices with Moscow is over” a three-star Army officer said. The Indian military now wants to break free of dependency on Moscow for its equipment and Israel is a dependable supplier, he added.
Others said that Israeli access to India’s defence sector remains “awesome”, bordering on alarming, with even senior military officers helpless to stem it as it is backed by staunch, institutionalised Government support.
With Israeli help, the IAF is developing a mobile ground-based imagery receiving and processing terminal for use by ground combat forces and the Navy to target a range of locally designed nuclear-capable missiles. Agreements are reportedly in place with Israel to lease capacity on its reconnaissance Ofeq-5 military satellites until India hones its own capabilities.
Further evidence of this continuing but unacknowledged collaboration emerged in January 2008 after India’s Space Research Organisation successfully placed an Israel Aerospace Industries-designed TecSAR military satellite in polar orbit in a classified operation to which access, at Tel Aviv’s request, was strictly limited. TecSAR is expected to appreciably augment Israel’s intelligence-gathering capabilities by providing 24-hour high-resolution synthetic-aperture radar [SAR] imagery in all weather conditions at an affordable cost. Two additional TecSAR satellite launches are expected over the next year. The IAF’s plans for a country-wide deployment of integrated air command-and-control systems that comprise airborne early warning and control platforms, radar, fighter aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles to replace the obsolete airspace management command and reporting centres are also being incrementally resuscitated.
Over the past five years, Israel has signed deals to supply India three Phalcon airborne early-warning systems for $1.1 billion, two Green Pine radars, 26 Derby beyond visual range missiles for the Navy’s Sea Harriers for $25 million, 30 medium range, stand-off AGM-142 Raptorn Have Nap/Raptor missiles for $62.7 million and between 400-500 thermal imaging stand alone systems to upgrade T-72M tanks valued at around $55 million.
Israel has also sold the Navy Barak anti-ship missiles, provided the electronics warfare suite for INS Viraat, the Navy’s lone aircraft carrier, avionics and weapon systems for 125 upgraded MiG 21 “bis” and for Su-30 Mk I multi-role fighters, a varied range of ordnance, hand held radar and hi-tech sensors for the volatile border in Jammu and Kashmir.
IAI’s Lahav division has provided the glass cockpit package for Dhruv, the indigenously designed advanced light helicopter that includes an electronic warfare suite, day and night observation capability and targeting and flexible armament systems while Soltam was awarded the $47,524,137 contract to upgrade 180 130 mm M-46 field guns to 155 mm/ 39 cal and 155mm/45 cal configurations in March 2000.
India also signed a $20 million agreement in December 2002 with Israel Military Industries ― later Israel Weapon Industries ― for 3,400 Tavor 21 5.56 mm standard assault rifles and Galil 7.62 sniper rifles in addition to assorted night vision and laser range finding and targeting equipment.
Military sources said pending agreements include the purchase of Heron II UAVs, El Op’s Portable Laser Designating System that recently underwent trials and assorted equipment for newly raised Special Forces units.
Extending Barak’s range by jointly developing the missile system, retrofitting the Cheetah light observation helicopters with new electronic warfare suites and day-and-night observation capability are other programmes under development in the profound partnership guaranteed to grow.