Twenty-five years after Jerusalem and New Delhi established diplomatic relations, India has become one of the largest buyers of Israeli military hardware with annual defense deals worth over $1 billion. Prime Minister Narenda Modi is expected to undertake the historic first visit by an Indian PM to visit Jerusalem in early July, to highlight the growing bilateral relationship between the countries.
On Tuesday, India’s Western Naval Command successfully conducted a trial firing of a medium-range surface-to-air missile from the INS Kochi stealth guided-missile destroyer. The missile, jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Dynamics Limited, “successfully tracked and intercepted a low-flying high-speed target at enhanced range with pin-point accuracy,” The New Indian Express news site quoted an official as stating.
And earlier this month, three Indian Navy warships docked in Haifa Port for a three-day visit aimed at strengthening the friendly relations between the countries.
Speaking to journalists aboard the INS Trishul, a stealth-missile frigate, R.-Adm. R.B. Pandit, the flag officer commanding India’s Western Fleet, said his country has “benefited from defense technologies, and a number of significant defense acquisitions have been made from Israel,” referring to the Barak-8, an Indian-Israeli surface-to-air missile, which he said “provides the Indian Navy new and greater air-defense capabilities.”
One week before the test of Israel Aerospace Industries’ medium-range surface-to-air missile, India successfully test-fired Rafael’s surface-to-air SPYDER missile system from a test facility off India’s Odisha coast against a UK-made Banshee unmanned aerial target aircraft. According to Indian media, the trial of the “short-range quick reaction weapon system was carried out for validating various parameters and checking its operational readiness.”
The SPYDER short- and medium-range air defense missile system is designed to engage and destroy a wide range of aerial threats such as aircraft bombers, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), cruise missiles, UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) and other stand-off weapons.
Last month, Israel Aerospace Industries announced that it had been awarded the largest defense contract in the Israeli defense industry’s history, signing a $1.6 billion mega-contract with the Indian Army for medium-range surface-to-air missiles, advanced air and missile defense systems as well as additional long-range surface-to-air missiles and air and missile defense systems for Indian aircraft carriers.
Another $400 million in contracts will go to another state-owned defense company, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which has also called India a “strategic and significant partner.”
Israel has been supplying India with various weapons systems, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles over the last few years. Until recently most of the transactions have been kept quiet, but ties have quietly shifted. Indian Air Force head Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha visited Israel in March 2016 and held wide-ranging talks with Israeli defense officials, including then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Recently the Integrated Underwater Harbor Defense and Surveillance System – developed by Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, was installed at the Port of Mumbai, to “enhance the security of valuable naval assets against asymmetric threats.” (In November 2008, 10 terrorists belonging to the Pakistani Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba infiltrated Mumbai by sea and killed 166 people, including six Jews at the city’s Chabad House, in one of India’s deadliest terrorist attack in years.)
A spokeswoman for Israel Aerospace Industries told The Jerusalem Post that the company has been working with India’s defense industries and armed forces for 25 years, in a strategic collaboration based on the transfer of technology to benefit Indians as part of New Dehli’s “Made in India” policy.
“The company collaborates with local companies and works with India’s defense agencies, as well as the coast guard, navy, air force and army. Joint development projects include the Barak-8 air defense system, in both its maritime and land-based versions; mission aircraft; various radar systems; and UAVs.”
A spokesman for Rafael told the Post the company has always supported India’s urgent operational necessities during times of crises, by supplying systems “on short notice during various operational contingencies.”
Cooperating with different branches of the Indian military and other security apparatuses, Rafael has worked to integrate their electro-optical systems, advanced ordnance and defense systems including multi-layered air defense capabilities to provide a “comprehensive protection for armed forces and population centers by delivering full protection on the ground,” the company said in a statement.
“Rafael is constantly seeking to enlarge its partnerships in India and is negotiating with the local industry to make this happen. It maintains an excellent relationship with the government offices, the DRDO [Defense Research and Development Organization], the forces and the industries, and is looking to expand its activities in India,” Rafael said, adding that as it hopes to establish global manufacturing hubs for its systems abroad as the Indian defense industry continues to grow, creating a “win-win situation for all.”