Joined in armsWith the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, India's foreign policy shifted gears quickly. While maintaining its foreign-policy status quo with Russia, New Delhi enhanced its relations with the United States, Israel, China and Southeast Asia. Of all these, none is tighter than the relationship developed between India and Israel, centered on military cooperation.
Israel has rapidly become India's second-largest defense supplier behind Russia, with US$2 billion in sales over the past decade. Indeed, the exchange of military hardware and sophisticated battlefield technologies, cooperative ventures in the design and manufacture of military defense systems and the sharing of highly classified intelligence information are at the core of the Israel-India relationship.
In December, an Indian delegation led by Defense Secretary Ajay Vikram Singh visited Israel and met with Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to explore areas for further cooperation between the two countries. And in early January, Israel Military Industries (IMI) signed an $11.6 million deal with India to manufacture 125mm tank shells jointly. This was in addition to two previously announced agreements between IMI and the Indian government to establish five chemical plants in India to develop explosives and a $30 million to $40 million deal to upgrade rockets for the Indian army.
Reports indicate that Israel and India have also agreed to hold joint air force exercises in 2005 that will pit Israel's US-made F-15 and F-16 fighters against the Indian air force's Russian-made Su-30s. In addition, Israel has agreed to upgrade the Indian air force's Chita helicopters, jointly develop the Barak-II ship defense missile, and upgrade the Indian navy's fleet of Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance planes. Separately, India is currently conducting trials of the Israeli-built Lahat anti-tank missile, Crystal Maze laser-guided bombs and the Pop-Eye missile.
India's surveillance needs
Faced with mounting threats as a growing number of countries in the region acquire medium-range missile capabilities, India has quietly turned to Israel for many of its air defense requirements, including radar and pilotless spy planes, and is moving from hardware purchases to research-and-development collaboration.
At the February 9-13 Aero India 2005 exposition at the Yelahanka Air Force Station in Bangalore, senior officials of the Indian and Israeli defense ministries signed a formal deal along these lines. According to a report on the agreement in the US-based Defense News, the Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) will assist India's Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) to develop three varieties of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as "drones".
ADE is one of the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization's (DRDO's) major aeronautical-research laboratories. ADE produces mini-remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), mostly useful for surveillance work. It also produces a modified Lakshya low target (MLLT) UAV for naval surveillance. Thirteen MLLTs are already in operation with the Indian navy.
Recent reports indicate that Israel is eyeing the Indian MLLTs for "reciprocal procurement" of defense-related items, including India's Advanced Light Helicopter, Dhruv. In the end, however, Israel chose to buy the US-made UAVs instead of the 20 Indian MLLTs New Delhi hoped to sell it. New Delhi had earlier tapped IAI to meet its needs for unmanned aerial vehicles. India's demand for UAVs aroused the interest of Israel's Elbit Systems and South Africa's Denel as well. Ultimately, India awarded a $130 million contract to IAI for 18 Heron UAVs, which are expected to be delivered within a year. Orders for 16 more UAVs for the Indian air force will be placed by the end of this month, according to Defense News.
In fact, in the past few years, India has purchased more than 100 UAVs from IAI, mainly for reconnaissance along its western border with Pakistan and especially in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, where terrorist infiltration from the Pakistan-held part of the state has kept India's relations with Pakistan on tenterhooks.
According to military observers, the decision to develop three varieties of UAVs jointly with the IAI is based on the fact that India's MLLTs do not measure up favorably against the Israeli UAVs. Indian defense experts note that Israel has reached a high degree of expertise and marketing sophistication in UAVs. According to Defense News, the three varieties of UAVs that are planned to be developed jointly include the medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) UAVs, the short-range UAVs and tactical UAVs. India already has produced a tactical UAV, Nishant, which will have a longer range of 250 kilometers and an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,100 meters).
The $100 million joint project to develop MALE UAVs will begin officially in June. This version will be able to remain aloft for more than 24 hours and have a range of 300km and a maximum altitude of 35,000 feet (10,700m). These UAVs will be able to use satellite links to transmit data, thereby extending their surveillance range beyond 1,000km. It is expected that the MALEs will be used by all of India's three services, and will be used exclusively to serve the Indian military.
The short-range UAVs will be developed principally to equip the Indian army divisions and would be similar in size and capabilities to Israel's existing Eye View, Hermes 180 and Silver Arrow drones. The UAVs will possess day and night watching capabilities, an endurance of five hours and a range of 150km.
India-Israel-Russia joint development
In late February, India gave the go-ahead to its DRDO to speed up its Sagarika program for development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), according to Defense News. The report claims India asked Israel for "technical assistance" in the development work. Russia also wants to provide assistance, it is reported. Defense News quotes top DRDO scientists who say that they have received permission to extend the missile's range from the originally planned 1,000km to 2,500km. The Sagarika currently has a range of only 300km. A senior Israeli Ministry of Defense official confirmed to Defense News that Israel was in talks with the DRDO on the latter's critical programs, including missiles.
Under the accelerated Sagarika development program, the DRDO will utilize Israeli and Russian assistance to carry out a test launch within two years. In June, the DRDO hopes to test-fire the Sagarika from a land site, using a guidance system upgraded with the help of Russian scientists from NPOM, Russia's state-supported cruise-missile and space-technology design bureau.
Business vs strategic agreement
The India-Israel military relationship is not centered on geostrategic agreement, but rather on compatibility. As V K Aatre, the outgoing chief of DRDO, pointed out, India had decided to launch joint programs with Israel in the field of electronic warfare, where both countries were on an equal footing.
"Wherever they have strengths, we want to jointly develop the missiles so that both countries can benefit and share designs, costs and risks," Atre said. "They [Israel] are very strong in sensors and packaging. We would like to work on fiber-optic gyros and micro-electromechanical systems."
But Israel is not the only country involved in India's military development. The US, a proponent of strong Israel-India relations, is assisting India, particularly in the realm of naval cooperation. Washington fully endorsed Israel providing India with sea-to-sea missiles, radar and other surveillance systems, border monitoring equipment, night vision devices, and the upgrading of India's Soviet-era armor and aircraft. Moreover, in marked contrast to Washington's vigorous opposition to Israel's supplying Phalcon reconnaissance aircraft to China, the US is apparently favorably disposed to the delivery of such planes to India.
But it is also evident that Washington may not be able to continue to provide such unqualified support for the India-Israel military hardware link. At a certain point (and it could be quite soon), the interest of US companies to sell defense hardware to India will begin to prevail. Already, Washington is pushing New Delhi to take a serious look at the US Patriot 2 air defense system to meet emerging threats from aircraft, cruise and tactical missiles. In this particular case, Israel is not America's competitor, but the Russians are. Moscow has reportedly issued a warning to India that if India purchases the Patriot 2 missiles, Russia will withhold the source code that would allow the Patriot 2s to be integrated with the Russian-built air defense systems the Indian army now operates.
Ramtanu Maitra writes for a number of international journals and is a regular contributor to the Washington-based EIR and the New Delhi-based Indian Defence Review. He also writes for Aakrosh, India's defense-tied quarterly journal.