Israel India’s Natural Aerospace Partner

anil chopra, air power asia, Indo-Israel

According to an international survey Israelis like Indians the most. There is a ground swell of pro-Israel opinion in India also as an all-weather friend. For long the India-Israel relations were held hostage to India’s support for Palestine; dependence on Arab oil; indirect influence of Arab Muslim populations on Indian domestic politics; India being closer to Soviet Union; and also large Indian expatriate labour in the Arab countries. Three events that brought the change were the collapse of Soviet Union, Arab-Israeli peace accord, and India’s rise as an economic power that give itself confidence. India establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, and formal defence ties in 1996. Ever since, there has been no looking back. The two countries first became close during the first National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime, and more recently the body language between Prime Ministers Modi and Netanyahu has been extremely warm and with a desire to move forward much faster. The two countries have an extensive economic, military, and strategic relationship. Israel was one of the few countries that chose not to condemn India’s Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998. Credibility of Israel as a reliable defence partner was reinforced during the Kargil War when Israel supported with electronic pods and laser bomb kits and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). In 2017, Indian Air Force (IAF) participated in the Blue Flag exercise in Uvda air force base in southern Israel for the first time, where it deployed IAF’s elite Garud Commandos and a Hercules C-130J-30 Super Hercules plane.

          Israel’s arms sales to India is the bedrock of the  strategic partnership. India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment, and Israel is now the third-largest defence supplier to India after Russia and USA. Israel is also conscious of India’s desire to become independent for defence production and push ‘Make in India’, and unlike USA and Russia who are sensitive to technology transfer, Israel is a little more willing to share some up-end technology. Their strengths are in Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems, UAVs, precession munitions, airborne radars, including for the AWACs, Ballistic Missile Defence, armoured vehicles, smart munitions, systems upgrades, Night Vision Goggles, and Head-Up-Displays, among others. Military and strategic ties extend to intelligence sharing on terrorist groups, cooperation in space, counter-terrorism, and cyber security.

Israel a Significant Aerospace Power

           Continuous wars and heavy external threat forced Israel to develop a big military-industrial Empire. A large number of companies in this otherwise small country, with population same as Bengaluru, are engaged in defence production. The bigger ones being the government controlled Israeli Arms Industry (IAI) and the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and private sector Elbit Systems and Taldrin Group, all producing a wide range of conventional arms and advanced defence electronics. IAI is into engineering, aviation, high-tech electronics, Space, and UAVs that include the Heron, Panther, Bird Eye, Searcher, and Mosquito micro UAV among others. Many of these are deployed in Afghanistan and also operated by India. Defence sales to India greatly helped Israel emerge as a global defence exporter of significance. IAF was the first to invest in the Israeli Air Combat Instrumentation for combat range in 1996. Around the same time India created the post of Defence Attaché in its embassy in Tel Aviv, a post reserved for an air force officer because of equipments being procured. This was followed by Dvora patrol boats for Indian Navy. Later India purchased the Barak naval anti-missile defence system.

          As of 2018, Israel was the ninth largest defence exporter with $7 billion sales, mostly to southeast Asia, Latin America, and India remains its largest buyer. Israel is also the second largest exporter of UAVs in the world. Battle hardened Israel has learned from experience. ‘Iron Dome’ air defence system became the clear winner of Israel-Gaza conflict ‘Operation Protective Edge’ of July 2014. This system consisting of ELTA radar and Rafael’s interceptor missiles, had a success rate of 90% against the Hamas fired rockets.

Israeli Radars and Jammers

          Phalcon IAI EL/W-2090 advanced airborne early warning radars are mounted on IAF’s Russian IL-76TD (A-50) based AWACS. Three are in service, and two have been ordered. The initial LCA ‘Tejas’ and SEPECAT maritime Jaguars of IAF had the advanced pulse Doppler, multimode planar array radar EL/M-2032. The ELTA EL/M-2052 is an airborne active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire-control radar is planned on IAF’s Jaguar DARIN III variants and LCA Mk1A  aircraft. A ELM-2022 based radar is fitted on IAF’s aerostat system. The ELTA EL/M-2080 Green Pine is a ground-based missile-defense radar to operate mainly with the theater missile defence system. India had acquired and deployed two Green Pine radars around July 2002 and another one in August 2005. The Swordfish Long Range Tracking Radar of India’s DRDO is a derivative of the original Green Pine. India’s desire to purchase the complete Arrow 2 ballistic defence system was vetoed by USA, as it then violated the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The ELTA EL/L-8222 Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ) pods are a standard fit on the Jaguar and MiG-21 Bison, and have been tested on LCA also. The major Israeli naval radars imported by Indian Navy in the last 10 years include EL/M 2248 MF-STAR and EL/M-2221 STGR.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

          The IAI Heron is a medium-altitude long-endurance UAV developed by the Malat (UAV) division of IAI. It can operate up to maximum 52 hours’ duration at up to 10.5 km (35,000 ft). Practical endurance will depend on actual pay load. IAF has significant numbers of these. An advanced version, is the Heron TP. At the February 2014 Singapore Air Show, IAI unveiled the Super Heron advanced Version with better speed and endurance. Purchase of these variants are under consideration. All three wings of the Indian Armed Forces operate IAI Searcher II UAVs. The Searcher is a scaled up, variant of the Scout UAV, and has a more powerful engine and can carry updated avionics and sensor systems with greater flight endurance as well as increased redundancy for improved survivability. India’s National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) also operates UAVs. The IAI Harpy is a loitering munition, designed to attack radar systems and is optimised for the suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) role. It carries a high explosive warhead, and has a range of 500 km. Significant numbers were purchased by IAF. The IAI Harop (Harpy 2) is a loitering munition which is essentially an anti-radiation drone that can either operate fully autonomously, using its anti-radar homing system, or have a human-in-the-loop mode. The Harop was publicly unveiled to the world for the first time in India, in the lead-up to the Aero India 2009 show. In February 2019, the IAF decided to add another 54 Harop drones to its earlier fleet of around 110, and has renamed them as  P-4.

Air-to-Air Missiles (AAM)

        The Rafael Python is a family of AAMs. Newer versions are Python-4, Python-5 and Derby. The Python-4 is a 4th generation AAM with all-aspect attack ability, and integration with a helmet-mounted sight (HMS) system. The missile’s seeker is reported to use dual band technology array, with ability to reduce background IR radiation to reduce the effectiveness of enemy flares. With a warhead of 11 kg, and a laser proximity fuse, it has a range of 15 km. The Python-5 is currently the most capable Israeli AAM. It is a beyond-visual-range (BVR)  missile that is capable of “lock-on after launch” (LOAL), and has full-sphere/all-direction (including rearward) attack ability. The missile features an advanced electro-optical IR homing seeker. The missile uses thrust vectoring nozzles and is highly maneuverable. It has a range in excess of 20 km. The Derby is a medium range BVR missile with around 50 km range. It has an active radar homing seeker. Though technically not part of the “Python” family, the missile is an enlarged version of the Python-4. India has acquired significant numbers all these three missiles.

Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM)

        Barak 8, also known as LR-SAM or as MR-SAM, is an Indo-Israeli jointly produced SAM system, designed to defend against aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, and ballistic missiles. There are both maritime and land-based variants. India’s Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) produces the missiles. When coupled with a modern air-defence system and multi-function surveillance track and guidance radars, (such as the EL/M-2248MF-STAR AESA on board the Kolkata-class destroyers), Barak 8 enables the capability to simultaneously engage multiple targets. The Indian Navy has already deployed the missiles. An ER (extended range) variant of the Barak 8 is under development, which will see the missiles maximum range increased to 150 km. The missile is expected to equip the Indian Navy’s future Visakhapatnam-class destroyers. MR-SAM is the land based configuration of the missile. The Indian Army ordered five regiments of this version, consisting of about 40 launchers and 200 missiles. It is expected to be deployed by 2023 with first deliveries commencing in 2020.

          The SPYDER (Surface-to-air PYthon and DERby) is an Israeli short and medium range mobile air defence system developed by Rafael with assistance from IAI. India started receiving the SPYDER systems from 2012. 18 SPYDER-MRs along with 750 Python-5 and 750 Derby SAMs have been delivered. India has purchased the Medium Range (MR) version with 80 km range. India successfully test fired the SPYDER-MR system in May 2017.

Israeli Bomb/Missile Guidance Kits

        IAF procured over a 100 Israeli SPICE-2000 Israeli stand-off glide bomb guidance kits for 900 Kg bombs with a range of 60 km, and accuracy of less than 3 meters. Made by Rafael Advanced Defense systems, currently these are integrated on Mirage 2000 aircraft, but soon the SU-30 MKI will be cleared for same. These bombs use electro-optical and GPS guidance, and were used by Mirage 2000 aircraft during the Balakot strikes in February 2019. More kits have since been ordered. The IAI Griffin Laser Guided Bomb (LGB) add-on kit that can be fitted on standard 250 and 1000 Kg gravity bombs. It has of a front “seeker” section and a steerable tail-plane, and can cruise and attack along a variety of trajectories, including top attack, and has a accuracy less than 5 meters. The Crystal Maze is a specific for India variant of the air-to-surface AGM-142A Popeye missile with a range of 100 km, weighing 1,100 kg, it carries 80 kg warhead. It too has a accuracy of 3 meters. 30 of these were purchased in 2010 for use against strategic targets.

New Joint Ventures

            Earlier this year, closer to DEFEXPO 2020, IAI and India’s Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a new center for technical and maintenance support for India’s air defense systems. IAI also signed a strategic collaboration memorandum with India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Dynamatic Technologies Limited for Make-in-India UAVs.

          Since 2018, Israeli defence firm Elbit Systems has a joint venture with Adani Defence in Hyderabad for the production of Hermes drones. Adani Defence’s 50,000-square-foot facility is the first outside of Israel for manufacturing the Hermes 900 medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV. Elbit also has a joint venture with Alpha Design Technologies, and they also work with BEL in the field of electronic warfare and electro-optics. Like IAI, Rafael’s interaction with Indian armed forces goes back decades. Rafael’s ecosystem is in Hyderabad, where it’s focusing on missiles, air defense systems, communications technology and electronic warfare. Rafael seeks to increase sales of its BNET communications systems in India, and it’s also offering the Typhoon remote controlled weapons system for Indian Navy. Rafael is also discussing its Drone Dome system, which protects against smaller drones. A recent test showed the system can use lasers to simultaneously stop multiple drones. Israel’s UVision, that makes loitering munitions, has also signed a deal with India’s Aditya Precitech to set up a joint venture to manufacture the PALM (precision attack loitering munition) Hero system. The JV is called AVision.

Indo-Israel Ties – Way Ahead

          Interestingly America is now fighting the kind of wars Israel has been fighting for decades—small-scale, low-intensity, against an elusive terrorist enemy, and needs the skills and equipment Israel has to offer. Much that India is trying to push Make-in-India defence production, it lacks some key technologies and technical expertise. Some of these critical technologies are not only available with Israel, it is willing to share some of them, and Make-with-India. Israel also has access to many top-end U.S. technologies.  The missile defence systems, PGBs, and glide bombs provided by Israel are crucial for India. Similarly India needs support specialised avionics, airborne radars, electronic warfare equipment, jammers, IR/EO pods, SAMs and UAVs. Israel has also been support for India’s BMD and space satellites. Cyber-security is the next area of cooperation. The Indian company Tech Mahindra is collaborating with the Israel-based ELTA systems to provide cyber solutions to government and enterprise customers in the country.

          Over $ 10 billion arms were transferred to India in the first decade of this century. It has been a mutually beneficial arrangement with Israel getting a badly needed market and India, the modern weapons and transfer of technology. India and Israel also share similar terror threats. Jews were specially targeted during Mumbai attacks. India’s intelligence agency R&AW and Israeli Mossad reportedly share information. The Teen Murti Chowk, representing the valour of Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Mysore lancers, was renamed ‘Teen Murti Haifa Chowk‘, to commemorate the centenary year of the Battle for Haifa (Israeli port city), in which a large number of Indian soldiers of the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade died in battle defending it. Following the outbreak of corona virus pandemic, in April 2020, India exported to Israel a five-ton shipment of drugs and chemicals. Jewish State’s cutting-edge excellence in many fields is likely to continue to drive forward Israel’s defense cooperation with India. 

Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

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