By ARIE EGOZI
Defence ties between India and Israel are very strong and have evolved over time. There are many instances, mostly unpublicised, where Israel has provided critical help in the defence sector when India needed it most. For instance, not many know that Israel was one of the few countries that helped India directly during the Kargil War. In May 1999, the Indian Army learned of Pakistan’s large-scale military intrusions in the Kargil-Dras sector.
What followed was a counter-offensive code-named Operation Vijay. While the militaries clashed, India turned to Israel, a country with technology and experience in border control and counter-terrorism. Israel aided India with mortar and ammunition and even provided laser-guided bombs for its fighter jets and surveillance drones.
Some see this event as the cornerstone for the current good defence relations between the two countries. During the years, India has purchased a long list of defence systems from Israel and some of these have been developed jointly by the two countries. The key to the growing India-Israel ties, however, is the understanding that both countries can benefit beyond the commercial aspects. In the early 2000s, the Indian army began to implement its long-overdue modernisation programme backed by the allocation of tens of billions of dollars.
Since then, defence deals with Israel have grown exponentially; today, India is the number one export target of Israel’s defence industries. India has purchased Israeli made surveillance systems as well as electronic components for its military aircraft, while Israel has also helped India defend itself through training in counterterrorism methods.
In November 2011, India’s elite Cobra Commando unit bought more than 1,000 units of the Israeli X-95 assault rifle to use in counterinsurgency operations. Also in 2011, India placed orders for four advanced Israeli Phalcon AWACS planes (airborne warning and control systems), which are capable of detecting hostile aircraft, cruise missiles and other incoming aerial threats way before ground-based radars can pick them up. India is now negotiating the purchase of two additional Phalcon-type systems from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Over the last two decades or so, Indian appetite for Israeli advanced defence systems has only grown. In 2012, the Indian government requested an unspecified number of Swordfish ground radar trackers, precision-guided artillery and unspecified missiles. In July 2014, Israeli and Indian government officials signed an intelligence-sharing agreement for jointly fighting radical Islamic extremism in the region.
One of the highlights of the military cooperation between the two countries is the joint development of the Barak-8 missile. The first test of the missile was carried out in 2014. The advanced missile system was developed by the Israel Aerospace Industries in close cooperation with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The first order was for 321 launchers and 8,356 missiles. Since then more contracts have been signed.
The Barak-8 long-range surface-to-air missile, developed jointly between India and Israel, was successfully tested on 30 December 2015. The test of the missile system, which cost the Indian government approximately $1.4 billion, was carried out on the Indian warship INS Kolkata. India again successfully tested the Barak 8 on 30 June 2016. An Indian defence official praised the test, stating “the test launch was a grand success and it met all the targets.” The Barak-8 can be launched from a ship or from land. Another successful test of the Barak-8 missile was carried out on 20 September 2016, at the Chandipur research and development base in Odisha, on the Bay of Bengal.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, India-Israel cooperation increased dramatically in 2014 with the election of India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India uses Israel-made UAVs for surveillance and military purposes, and more orders are under evaluation. After acquiring the IAI Heron 1, India is evaluating the purchase of the IAI strategic UAV, the Heron-TP, but the competition with US-made systems is fierce.
Yossi Weiss, former president and CEO of IAI, told Raksha Anirveda that until some years ago the US was not willing to sell India advanced weapon systems “This changed in the Trump era, as a result of the American defence companies. Until then the Israeli technology was on the top wish-list of the Indian government.” Weiss added that now the competition in the India market is fierce with American and European companies competing on each tender. “It will be very hard for the Israeli companies to get mega projects in India like the Barak-8 one.”
Yoav Har-Even, President and CEO of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, recently said that for over 20 years Rafael has stood side-by-side with India and its armed forces, and has regarded the Indian industries and the various branches of the military as partners. “As such, Rafael has provided the most advanced systems that give India the much needed force-multiplier to carry out its missions in facing current and future challenges. The systems that Rafael provides are combat proven and integrate easily with Indian military platforms.”
One good example of this long-term cooperation is the Indian Air Force (IAF) recently commencing the integration of the Rafael BNET software defined radio on all its combat aircraft. The Israeli company is supplying 1,000 systems that are being integrated into all the IAF combat aircraft.
The BNET is the main communication system of the existing and future platforms of the Israeli Air Force (IAF). The BNET replaces existing radio systems installed in the aircraft and according to the Israeli company while it is half in size and weight, it offers a very wide communications channel for data. Rafael’s BNET system was selected after a competition with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the US firms Rockwell Collins and Rohde & Schwarz.
In February 2017, the Indian Navy launched a new Israeli-developed Integrated Underwater Harbor Defence and Surveillance System (IUHDSS). The system is aimed at enhancing the security of above and below-water vehicles operated by the Indian Navy in the Mumbai Naval Harbor.
In October 2014, Israel reached a deal with India to supply 8,356 Spike anti-tank guided missiles and 321 missile launchers developed by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems. Israel Aerospace Industries announced in April 2017 that it had struck a deal with the Indian Army and Navy to supply them with an advanced air defence system worth upwards of $2 billion. The deal was described by IAI as Israel’s largest ever defence deal.
On May 10, 2017, three warships from the Indian navy docked in the port of Haifa, ahead of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s scheduled visit during the summer. The ships, the INS Mumbai, the INS Trishul and the INS Aditya, participated in a naval drill with the Israeli navy when they entered the port. This is the eighth time that Indian ships have docked at an Israeli port, the first being in 2000.
The Indian military carried out their first successful tests of the Israeli-made surface-to-air missile system, dubbed the SPYDER, on May 11, 2017. The launch of the SPYDER system went off without a hitch, and all three missiles that were launched hit their targets. The SPYDER uses two Rafael air-to-air missiles, the Python and Derby, for air defence purposes.
A new joint venture between Indian firm Punj Lloyd and Israel Weapons Industries, known as Punj Lloyd Raksha Systems, or PLR Systems, was announced in May 2017. The firm (now a part of the Adani Group) produces small arms from the Israel Weapons Industries product line, and is the first private small-arms manufacturer in India to produce equipment for both local and export purposes. Ashok Wadhawan, Chairman of PLR Systems Pvt. Ltd., explained that the joint venture aims to supply carbines, assault rifles, sniper rifles and light machine guns for the armed forces, paramilitary forces and the state police.
The Indian military deployed an Israeli-developed comprehensive integrated border management system (CIBMS) along its border with Pakistan in August 2017. The fence is monitored by sensors and security cameras, and alerts the staff in monitoring facilities when a breach has occurred. Indian officials announced plans to seal all of their 6,300 km borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh with the Israeli smart-fence.
It must be mentioned here that India participated in the Israeli Blue Flag military exercise for the first time in November 2017.
Due to rising tensions with China, India announced plans in July 2020 to purchase additional weapons from Israel. Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz discussed strengthening bilateral ties and Singh expressed interest in encouraging greater participation of Israeli defence companies in India’s defence manufacturing sector. So, while the defence ties between India and Israel are still excellent, the competition in the Indian market has intensified with several global competitors in each segment of defence procurement.
Brig. General (Res) Yair Kulas, head of SIBAT, the directorate in the Israeli MOD in charge of defence export, told Raksha Anirveda that since the early 90s, India and Israel have been enhancing their bilateral relationship, including in the area of defence. “As India and Israel share common values and face similar challenges with regard to their national security, we are very proud to be considered as one of India’s defence partners. For more than a decade, Israel has been leading the foreign industrial defence partnership with Indian industries, contributing to the ‘Make in India’ vision and enjoying trustworthy partners, for the defense and production supply chain.”
According to the Observer Research foundation (ORF), a Delhi-based think tank, bilateral relations between India and Israel stand at a unique juncture today. The paradigm shift occurred two years ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2017 became the first Indian PM to embark on a state visit to Israel and the two countries elevated their ties to a strategic partnership. In January 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reciprocated the signal with a visit to New Delhi. It is clear that both New Delhi and Tel Aviv are according priority to strengthening bilateral ties, a pillar of which is defence. “This is driven by their respective national interests—i.e., India’s long-sought goals of military modernisation, and Israel’s comparative advantage in commercialising its arms industries.”
The think tank researchers say that to be sure, the ambit of India-Israel defence cooperation has widened to include other domains like space, counter-terrorism, and cyber security; however, the cornerstone remains Israeli arms sales to India.
According to the ORF research paper, India suffers from many constraints in defence production and acquisition, including lack of technical expertise, complex bureaucracy, lack of manufacturing infrastructure, inadequate funding, cost overruns, and project delays. Israel fills these shortcomings by supplying ready-to-use critical technologies, even on short notices. Instead of manufacturing-intensive heavy weaponry, Israel has created its niche in the market with its innovation-backed technologies such as UAVs, missile defence systems, avionics, precision-guided munitions and surveillance radars.
The Israeli imports are instrumental for India in patrolling and surveillance purposes in peacetime and eases the operational ability of armed forces in wartime. For instance, the missile defence systems, PGBs, and ammunition provided by Israel played a crucial role in controlling the escalation between India and Pakistan post the Balakot air strikes. The export-oriented Israeli defence industry and its openness to establishing joint ventures complement India’s twin missions of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make with India’ in defence.
-The writer is International Roving Correspondent of this publication. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda