NEW DELHI: India and Israel on Thursday inked mega defence deals worth over $2 billion for advanced surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, which are designed to destroy hostile aircraft, missiles and drones at a range of 70-km, to further tighten the bilateral strategic partnership ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s impending visit to Tel Aviv in July.
Defence sources said the major deal was for the joint project between the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for the Barak-8 medium-range SAM systems to initially include one regiment of 16 launchers and 560 missiles for the Indian Army.
The second deal to be inked was for a similar SAM system to be fitted on board the 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant being built at the Cochin Shipyar
As was earlier reported by TOI, the Modi-led Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in February had cleared the MR-SAM project for the Army at an overall cost of Rs 16,830 crore, which will now include a first instalment of Rs 1,500 crore.
This project follows the two similar DRDO-IAI programmes already underway for the next-generation SAMs for Indian warships at an initial cost of Rs 2,606 crore and nine air defence squadrons for the IAF for Rs 10,076 crore.
These Barak-8 systems, with their MF-STARs (multi-function surveillance and threat alert radars) as well as weapon control systems with data links, can detect and track hostile aerial threats at a range of 100-km and destroy them at 70-km.
But questions have been raised about these SAM systems, which are to be produced in bulk by defence PSU Bharat Dynamics, both in terms of their exorbitant costs as well as long delays in their delivery schedules.
The naval SAM project, for instance, was sanctioned by the CCS in December 2005, while the IAF one for nine squadrons was cleared in February 2009. As per the latest revised timeline, the naval project’s completion date is now slated for December 2017
instead of the original May 2011 deadline.
The naval SAM system, tested for the first time in November 2014, meanwhile, has been fitted on the three new Kolkata-class destroyers. Each new SAM system is projected to cost around Rs 1,200 crore for the 12 under-construction warships in Indian shipyards, including NS Vikrant, four guided-missile destroyers and seven stealth frigates.
Though the expansive bilateral defence ties are kept largely under wraps due to international and domestic political sensitivities, Israel is among the top three defence suppliers to India. Having already inked deals and projects worth around $10 billion over the last 15 years, Israel has bagged seven Indian arms contracts in the last two years.
There are also several more big-ticket deals in the pipeline. These include two more Israeli Phalcon AWACS
(airborne warning and control systems), which are to be mounted on Russian IL-76 military aircraft, and four more Aerostat radars at a cost upwards of $1.5 billion.
Moreover, India is set to soon acquire 10 Heron-TP armed drones for around $400 million. While the Indian armed forces have inducted over 100 Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles, which include the surveillance Searcher and Heron ..