India and Israel now plan to further crank up their already expansive defence partnership by going in more co-development and co-production projects of high-tech weapon systems and exporting them to other friendly countries.
A new sub-group to promote such joint projects, under the overarching joint working group on defence cooperation headed by Indian defence secretary and his Israeli counterpart, was set up on Thursday.
The main focus of the sub-working group (SWG) on defence industrial cooperation will be on transfer of technology, co-development and co-production, technology security, Artificial Intelligence, innovation and joint export to third countries.
Israel has been among the top four arms suppliers to India for almost two decades now, notching military sales worth around $1 billion every year. “With the Indian defence industry now also becoming stronger, the need was felt for the two countries to establish more R&D, co-development and co-production projects,” said a senior official on Friday.
“Israel is a world leader in missiles, sensors, cyber-security and various defence sub-systems,” he added. The SWG will be headed by Sanjay Jaju, joint secretary (defence industries production) in the Indian defence ministry and Eyal Calif, director Asia & Pacific from the Israeli one.
This comes at a time when the Indian armed forces are inducting the next-generation Barak-8 surface-to-air missile systems under three joint DRDO-Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) projects worth over Rs 30,000 crore.
Israeli companies like IAI, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Elbit and Elta Systems have also formed seven joint ventures with Indian companies. An MoU, for instance, was inked between the Kalyani Group and Rafael on Thursday.
The secretive bilateral military ties, which grew after Israel rushed emergency arms supplies to India during the 1999 Kargil conflict, have largely come out of the closet after the Modi government came to power in 2014.
The Indian armed forces have inducted a wide array of Israeli weapon systems over the years, which range from Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) and Heron, Searcher-II and Harop drones to Barak anti-missile defence systems and Spyder quick-reaction anti-aircraft missile systems.
The acquisitions also include a host of Israeli missiles and precision-guided munitions, from Python and Derby air-to-air missiles to Crystal Maze and Spice-2000 bombs. The Spice-2000 penetration bombs, in fact, were used by Indian Mirage-2000s fighters to bomb the JeM facility at Balakot in Pakistan in February last year.
There are several other Indian defence deals in the pipeline for Israel. The IAF, for instance, is looking to seal the long-pending over $1.5 billion deal to acquire two more “Phalcon” AWACS or “eyes in the sky”.
The Rajnath Singh-led defence acquisitions council last month also decided to fast-track `Project Cheetah’ to arm the Heron drones with laser-guided bombs, air-to-ground anti-tank missiles and other precision-guided munitions as well as advanced reconnaissance capabilities for around Rs 3,500-crore, as was reported by TOI.