Mutual gain: India-Israel missile cooperation

The India-Israel defence cooperation received a major boost with the visit of the facilities in Israel by the Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne on 22nd January, 2013. The IAF chief, who is also the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff committee, was in Israel to review bilateral defence cooperation and also to oversee the joint development and production programme of the Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM).

Earlier a joint cooperation agreement between Bharat Electronics and the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) was signed in early December last year for the joint development and production of the Long Range Surface to Air Missile LRSAM for the navy, which will be India’s most deadly anti-ship missile with a range of 70 kms. Though the joint development and research work, under a Rs 10,000 crore (then US$ 2.5 billion) project,  has been progressing  ever since 2007 when Indian Cabinet gave an approval for the joint development and manufacture of the LRSAM for Navy and the MRSAM for the Air Force. But the final green signal for the production was given during the early December, 2012 meeting of the Indo-Israel Joint Working Group on defence cooperation held in New Delhi. The meeting was co-chaired by Indian Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed last December, for cooperation on future Long range suface to air missile ship defence systems project. As claimed in a joint press release India and Israel has been engaged in joint development programmes with DRDO and Indian defence industries for the Indian navy and IAF, including joint manufacture of subsystems. Under the MoU the BEL and IAI will function as the lead integrator and produce major sub-systems.

Strategic partner

IAI will continue to act as Design Authority and to produce sub-systems as a main sub-contractor of BEL. According to Mr. Ramakrishna, Director Marketing of BEL, “We see IAI as a strategic partner with a wide range of potential joint activities. This MoU demonstrates that BEL and IAI can work closely together on the most sophisticated and advanced programs, for the mutual benefit of both companies.” Mr. Ramakrishna added: “We will continue to operate under the active support and guidance of the DRDO.” While signing the MoU Mr. Weiss, President and CEO of IAI, commented: “This MoU is a significant step forward in our joint work with India.

Partnership with BEL will further enhance IAI’s ability to provide high quality solutions and service to Indian defense services, best supporting the needs of India. BEL is a strategic partner for IAI, and we hope this cooperation will expand to other areas of mutual interest.”

Besides, the LRSAM, the two countries are also reported to be working on joint development of ground to ground land attack cruise missile. Since India already has surface to surface ballistic missiles from a range of 700 to 3500 kms, the two countries are reportedly working on increasing the range of Israeli land attack cruise missile from 1000 to 3000 kms.

According to sources DRDO has taken this responsibility to develop this missile in technical collaboration with three Israeli companies IAI, Elta and Rafael. The DRDO units who are associated with this ambitious project are the DRDL, Research Center Imarat and the Aerospace Systems Hyderabad. Defence Avionics Research Establishment Bangalore, the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment and Naval Physical Oceanographic Laboratory based at Kochi.

India is also reported to be discussing the acquisition and production of the short range Iron Dome surface to air missile system. This missile system recently proved its worth during the flare up with the Hamas group. The residents of Tel Aviv were largely protected by the Hamas rockets by these Iron Dome anti- missile and aircraft systems. The threat perception in the Indian security scenario demands a similar air defence system. Though Indian Akash anti-aircraft system is being deployed by the IAF, it is not designed to tackle the missile threat.

Technology transfer

Though Israel would be agreeable to supply the Iron Dome missile batteries to India, India wants transfer of technology for large scale production and the negotiations are going on. The Israelis are presently not willing to transfer the technology but India may go ahead with the deal with direct purchase of first lot and then assembly later in India. Israel then would probably agree to technology cooperation.

India and Israel would thus be giving a firm shape to the missile development cooperation, which began with the bold Israeli decision to supply two of the Green Pine radars for India’s Advanced Air Defence Missile project, said to be India’s answer to the US Patriot and Russian S-400 series of anti-missile defence systems. The Green Pine radar is considered to be most sensitive and critical part of this system, which was earlier, denied to the Chinese on US insistence.

The Indo-Israel defence cooperation in such sensitive areas is not a one way advantage to India. The Indian acquisition of systems from Israel, which spends a large sum on research and development, helps offset its development costs. Since Israeli armed forces need these systems in limited numbers, the large scale production of them helps achieve economy of scale.

In accordance with high level of mutual confidence, as Israel rests assured that its technology would not be transferred to third country, the Israeli missile development units are also cooperating with Indian DRDO in developing the 150 kms range, surface to air missile defence system. This will have a more than double range than the supersonic vertically launched Barak-8 or BarakNG (new generation), which India has already acquired from Israel. According to defence sources this program is the natural extension of the ongoing joint project for the LRSAM and MRSAM systems. Since India is urgently looking to replace its Russian Pechhora missiles acquired in mid-nineties, the MRSAM for the IAF would fulfill the requirements, but India is looking to counter the threat from the ballistic missiles at a distance of 150 kms.

The Indian AAD systems are still in a development phase, though, a number of tests have been conducted from its initiation in 2006, the managers of Indian defence are not fully relying on the indigenous system, which ultimately also depends on the Israeli technical support as the Green Pine radar would have to be imported from Israel to continue the domestic development and production of Indian version of Advanced Air Defence Missile.

Since India provides an assured defence market for Israeli research and development in the missile arena, cooperation between the two countries is likely to flourish. In view of international regime like MTCR, the western countries or even Russia hesitates in transferring technologies which can be employed in missile development.  Israel is thus proving to be India’s most reliable defence partner in spite of India working in tandem with its rival Arab countries in denouncing Israel’s Palestine policy.

During his Israel visit the IAF Chief is reported to have significant talks with the Israeli Director of the Directorate of the Research and Development Rear Admiral Ophir Shohom on ongoing joint development projects. The IAF and DRDO officials are already posted at HarKirya in Tel Aviv to oversee the early completion of the project. ACM Browne also met the Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and the Chief of the General Staff, Israeli Defence Forces Lt General Benjamin Gantz.