Indo-Israeli defense trade — in a lull since the United Progressive Alliance government came to power in May — has new momentum, with Israel offering to collaborate on a number of projects with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
An Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) official in New Delhi said Israel made an offer that includes joint development of some parts for the indigenous Arjun main battle tank; joint development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), electronic warfare components and command-and-control systems; and collaboration on space-related nanotechnology efforts.
The offer is the result of a series of meetings between top Indian MoD officials and their Israeli counterparts over the past six months, ministry sources said. The most recent meeting took place in Tel Aviv in late December, when Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz hosted an eight-member Indian delegation led by his Indian counterpart, Ajai Vikram Singh.
Other areas of collaboration being discussed include an electro-optic package for India’s Nishant UAV, with the aim of extending the vehicle’s range to 150 kilometers, the Indian MoD official said.
The Nishant UAV went into limited production in December. It can fly at an altitude of 12,000 feet, has an endurance of 4.5 hours and a range of 100 kilometers. It can carry a 45-kilogram payload, said a DRDO scientist.
Israel is currently India’s sole source for UAVs, with purchases of dozens of Searcher-1, Searcher-2 and Heron aircraft since 1998. Another $200 million deal for 50 additional Heron medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs is imminent, with contract signature expected in the next few weeks, according to Israeli government officials.
Israel’s government-owned Israel Military Industries (IMI) also is modernizing the trajectory system for DRDO’s multibarrel rocket launcher, the Pinaka. An Indian Army officer said the Pinaka can achieve only 80 percent of its specified range of 40 kilometers and needs greater accuracy.
“This is a program that is going very well,” IMI Chairman Arieh Mizrachi told Defense News.
Yet another major Indo-Israeli cooperative effort involves the construction of five chemical plants in India for production of ordnance. IMI announced Dec. 28 that it was selected for the estimated $126 million program, which requires the Ramat Hasharon firm to work with India’s largest government-owned company, the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), to establish all five plants within 24 months of contract signature.
Once finalized, IMI will provide to OFB all the technology and expertise the Israeli firm has accrued through similar projects for the Israeli military and Ministry of Defense, Mizrachi noted in his firm’s announcement last month.
Mizrachi on Jan. 20 estimated that up to 25 percent of all IMI exports are going to the Indian market.
Reaffirming the Relationship
Under the former National Democratic Alliance government, Israel emerged as India’s second largest supplier of weapons and equipment after Russia. Some analysts and defense officials in New Delhi had raised doubts shortly after elections in May that the United Progressive Alliance government — backed by left-leaning parties — would maintain those close ties to Tel Aviv.
India signed contracts averaging around $250 million to $400 million each year since 1999 for the purchase of Israeli weapons and equipment, including Barak ship-based anti-missile systems, UAVs, heavy mortars, ammunition, tactical communications gear, night-vision equipment and airborne- and ground-based targeting devices. In 2004, however, India accounted for about half of the more than $3 billion that Israel's MoD recorded in new orders for the year due to an estimated $1 billion contract for three airborne early warning and control aircraft for the Indian Air Force.
The Indian MoD official said there is no change in India’s posture on defense ties with Israel, adding that the latest plans for joint development of equipment represent a quantum leap forward in their relationship.
Another DRDO scientist said India would like to tap into Israel’s expertise in the field of sensors. The scientist also said India is developing a battlefield weapon-locating radar and is looking forward to Israel’s help.
Israel already is helping India develop upgraded avionics for Russian Su-30 MKI fighters as well as with modernization of MiG-27 fighters, Mi-18 helicopters, Jaguar aircraft and the Army’s 130mm artillery to 155mm guns, said the DRDO scientist.
Some of the weapons and equipment that could be contracted in the near future from Israel include Python-5 air-to-air missiles, additional phased-array radar similar to the ground-based Green Pine Radar already procured by New Delhi, advanced assault rifles and Galil sniper rifles, and joint development of night vision systems for ground troops and maritime patrol aircraft, said sources in the Indian MoD’s Procurement Department.
The momentum of fresh negotiations will ensure that the best equipment is available for the Indian Defence Forces, said Nitin Mehta, a defense analyst here. The next budget will make provisions for purchases from Israel, Mehta said.