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04 March 2016

India Lines Up Defence Deals

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first visit to Tel Aviv later this year, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has begun to clear a slew of defence deals with Israel, some of which have been pending for long, together worth well over $3 billion.

Indian Defence Ministry sources on Tuesday said while the deals for Rafael SPICE-2000 bombs and laser-designation pods have already been cleared by the CCS, the ones for acquisition of two more Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) PHALCON AWACS (airborne warning and control systems), four more aerostat radars, and the medium-range surface-to-air missile system (MRSAM) for the Army are now on the anvil.

India and Israel agreed to jointly develop the MRSAM system for the Indian Army to replace Russian-made air defense systems. The land version of MRSAM would be an extension of the ongoing Indian Air Force (IAF) MRSAM project, which is expected to begin induction by 2017, three years behind scheduled. The Army has an immediate need for one regiment (18 systems) of MRSAMs at a cost of $1.5 billion, but the total requirement for these systems is estimated to be more than $6 billion. The agreement to jointly develop the land version of MRSAM, which will have a range of up to 70km, emerged during a 22 February meeting between visiting Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar. The Army mobile MRSAM systems will be jointly developed by India's state-owned defense research agency, the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), and Rafael and IAI. The system will be produced by India's state-owned Bharat Dynamics Ltd., in participation with domestic private sector companies Tata Power SED and Larsen & Toubro.

Most of these deals had reached the final stages of approvals, while the negotiations for the initial Rs3,200 crore contract for 321 Rafael SPIKE anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) systems and 8,356 missiles are also making some headway after being stalled for months.  Both the 164 laser-designation pods (LITENING-4) and 250 advanced SPICE precision stand-off bombs (all by Rafael) are meant to arm IAF fighter jets like Sukhoi 30MKIs and JAGUARs for greater lethality and accuracy.

The acquisition of two additional AWACS for over $1 billion, in turn, will be a follow-on order to the three such "force-multipliers" already inducted by the IAF under a tripartite $1.1 billion agreement inked by India, Israel, and Russia in 2004.  The AWACS are basically Israeli early-warning radar suites mounted on Russian IL-76 transport aircraft. With a 400km range and 360 degree coverage, they are "eyes in the sky" capable of detecting incoming fighters, cruise missiles and drones much before ground-based radars. Similarly, the four new aerostat radars - sensors mounted on blimp-like large balloons tethered to the ground - will follow the two such EL/M-2083 radars inducted by the IAF under a $145 million deal in 2004-2005.