RAHUL BEDI | 4 JULY, 2017
PM Modi in Israel: A Big, Huge Defence Handshake!
NEW DELHI: Materiel purchases, including an assortment of missile systems, are expected to feature prominently during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-day Israel visit from 4 July, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister.
India has emerged as Israel’s largest customer for military equipment after the two countries established bilateral diplomatic relations in 1992.
And conversely for India, Israel is its fourth largest supplier of defence goods after the US, Russia and France; but theirs is a relationship shrouded in secrecy that includes intelligence sharing and collaboration on multiple, including sensitive, military programmes.
Official and diplomatic sources said acquisitions likely to be concluded during PM Modi’s trip include two additional A-50EI Israel Aircraft Industries Phalcon Ilyushin IL 76TD airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft and four supplementary Rafael-IAI aerostat radar balloons.
In 2011 the Indian Air Force (IAF) had inducted three similar AEW&C platforms for $ 2 billion, in addition to procuring two aerostat balloons for around $540 million to boost low-level air and sea-surveillance.
Also likely to be progressed during PM Modi’s visit is the sale to India of some 15 advanced long range armed Heron TP XP unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have been re-engineered to limit their payload to 450kg. This XP or export version can only be sold to countries that are members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a body India was admitted into last June.
The two sides have been engaged in protracted negotiations for the IAI-designed Heron UAV which once inducted, would significantly augment the Indian military’s intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities, especially in Kashmir’s mountainous regions. Currently, all three Indian services operate around 32 basic Heron UAVs.
Other Israeli procurements likely to be advanced over the next few days include 250 Smart Precise Impact and Cost Effective (SPICE) Guidance kits for air-to-surface munitions and 164 Litening-4 laser designation pods for the IAFs Su-30-MKI, Jaguar and Mireage-2000H fighters.
Alongside, the deal for around 320 Spike anti-tank guided missile systems (ATGMs) and over 8,350 missile from Israel’s Rafael for the Indian Army that has been in the pipeline for over seven years is expected to reach fruition The ATGM buy combines the outright purchase and licensed manufacture of launchers and missiles.
Spike was the only ATGM to undergo user trials by the army in 2010-11, but pressure from the US, wanting to sell India the Lockheed Martin-designed Javelin ATGMs had deferred the deal. Official and industry sources said the Spike purchase was likely to be concluded during Modi’s visit, as inducting ATGMs remains an enduring problem for the army.
The Rs 100 billion joint development of Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missiles for the Indian Army, also delayed like most other programmes, too is likely to feature in talks during PM Modi’s visit.
Israel has supplied a vast array of equipment to India’s military over the past 25 years, including electronic warfare suites for IAF fighters, fire control systems for T72 M1 tanks, assorted radar and lasers and Tavor-21 assault rifles and Galil sniper rifles for the army’s special forces.
Israel has also upgraded 180 Soviet-era 130mm M46 field guns to 155mm/45 caliber and sold the Indian Navy (IN) two Super Dvora fast track attack craft, of which five more were locally licence built. It has also jointly developed with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) the Barak-8 air defence missiles for the IN, which are currently being fitted onto frontline warships.
Other acquisitions include around 70-odd IAI-built Searcher Mk 1 and Mk 2 and Heron UAVs and 30 Harpy ground attack drones that constitute an integral ingredient of the burgeoning network centric warfare capability that all three Services are seeking to execute the full spectrum of conflict from insurgencies to nuclear war.
Other Israeli kit includes two Green Pine radar, supplemented by aerostat balloons, 30 Rafael Industries-built AGM-142 Raptor Have Nap/Popeye missiles, specially configured for the IAF for around $ 62.7 million and SPYDER (Surface-to-air Python and Derby) low-level quick reaction missile system (LLQRM) for the IAF for $ 260 million.
Israeli defence vendors also work closely with the DRDO on a host of classified programme and, according to official sources they have the highest access to to the upper echelons of India’s security establishment.
Security and defence ties between New Delhi and Tel Aviv proliferated after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assumed office in 1999.
The 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan dramatically pushed Israel to centre stage in India’s military arena.
As the seriousness of the eventual 11-week long conflict unfolded, Israel dug deep into its military reserves to supply India high-end hardware like badly-needed 155 mm ordnance, UAVs and laser-guided bombs that contributed in part to vacating the mountainous regions siege and eventually terminating the fighting.
This relationship was carefully nurtured during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decade-long rule, which witnessed large scale military commerce between India and Israel.
Frequent reciprocal visits to Delhi and Tel Aviv by military, security and intelligence officers, DRDO technicians and scientists and armament company executives, were kept under wraps. Neither side was willing to comment on burgeoning defence ties and related deals.
PM Modi’s election as PM further augmented the relationship, with Pranab Mukherjee becoming the first Indian President to visit Israel in late 2016.
Earlier in September 2016, PM Modi openly met his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York in September 2014 in which bilateral defence ties figured prominently.
According to the Jerusalem Post Netanyahu declared after meeting PM Modi that the ‘sky was the limit’ for India-Israel relations.
This sentiment will be tested during the newt few days when Netyanhu is committed to being Modi’s ‘shadow’ during his trip.
(Rahul Bedi is a senior journalist and an expert on Defence matters.)