Since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between India and Israel in 1992, both countries have maintained extensive economic and military ties. India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest defence supplier to India after Russia. From 1999 to 2009, the military business between the two nations was worth around $9 billion.
Arms imports to India 1999-2018
For the first time, India struck a major defence deal with Israel in 1996 for the sale of 32 Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) Searcher Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Electronic Support Measure sensors to the Indian Air Force.
Subsequently, Israeli defence manufacturers have signed various MoU’s(Memorandum of Understanding) with their Indian counterparts like the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to jointly develop crucial and sophisticated weapon systems. Some important defence deals between India and Israel have been mentioned below.
India’s major defence purchases from Israel
Barak-1 missile deal: To counter the American made Harpoon anti-ship missiles that were purchased by Pakistan in 1995, the Government of India (GOI) signed a deal with Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) in 2000 to procure a batch of Barak-1 vertically launched surface-to-air missiles.
Proponents of the India-Israel strategic relationship say that “The deal for Barak-1 vertically launched surface-to-air missiles laid the foundation for a burgeoning strategic relationship between India and Israel”.
Python-5 and Derby missile deal: In order to equip the Indian Air Force’s fighter fleet with advanced air-to-air missiles, the Indian Air Force signed a deal with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Systems Ltd for the procurement of Python-4, Python-5, and Spyder air-to-air missiles. Moreover, the deal was highly cost-effective as the Indian Air Force was already using the Surface to Air Python and Derby (SPYDER) missile defence system, which uses the same Python and Derby missiles to shoot down enemy’s aerial assets. Therefore, these missiles can be used on both fighter jets and on the SPYDER air defence system, which increases the interoperability between the two systems.
Spike missile deal: Initially it was decided that the Indian Army will get its hands on 8,356 Spike anti-tank guided missiles under a $1 billion deal, but the deal was cancelled by India’s Ministry of Defence citing the lack of transfer of technology to Bharat Dynamics Ltd by Israel. However, a small batch of 240 Spike missiles was acquired by the Indian Army to fulfil its immediate requirements.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV):
Heron drone deal: New Delhi placed an order of 88 Heron drones to Israeli Aerospace Industries for $1 billion during the period 2005-2018. In addition, India plans to buy 50 more Israeli Heron-1 Long-Endurance Reconnaissance UAVs in a reported $500 million deal.
Radars and Sensors:
Considering the need to protect India’s long borders and high seas, India had purchased numerous radars and sensors from Israel for reconnaissance and intelligence purposes. These radars and sensors have been installed on naval vessels and aircrafts. To add, most of them are EL/M-series radars that are constructed by ELTA systems along with Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and are used for ground surveillance, air reconnaissance, and as onboard fire control radars on fighter jets.
Phalcon AWACS deal: An AWACS or Airborne Early Warning and Control System is used for early identification of enemy aircrafts and missiles. Such systems are particularly useful at higher altitudes where mountains limit the field of view of ground radars. Three Phalcon AWACS systems fitted with IAI’s radar equipment, mounted on a Russian IL-76 transport aircraft, were bought by the Indian Air Force in 2003 for $1 billion.
EL/M-2032 radar deal: Another deal for $137 million was signed by India’s state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for 41 EL/M-2032 multimode airborne fire control radars that are currently being fitted on the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas Mk-1.
EL/M-2248 MF STAR radar deal: Similarly, a deal for the EL/M 2248 MF-STAR multi-function radar used for maritime surveillance was approved by the Government of India in 2013.
Additionally, the Government of India approved four more radars to be deployed on the INS Visakhapatnam (Project-15B) destroyers and INS Kolkata-class (Project-15A) destroyers.
EL/M-2248 MF STAR radars accoutered on an INS Kolkata class destroyer
Guided bomb kits and munitions deals:
Spice-2000 guided bomb kits deal: As a result of the shortcomings of the Kargil war, the Indian Air Force acquired Spice-2000 guided bomb kits from Israel in 2009, the bombs came with a price tag of $6 million. It is important to note that the Spice-2000 guided bomb kits are combat-proven and had also proved their capability during the Balakot airstrikes that were carried out by the Indian Air Force in 2019. Hence, a repeat order for Spice-2000 guided bomb kits was placed by the Indian Air Force post-Balakot airstrikes.
IAI Harop deal: Israeli Aerospace Industries Harop is a loitering munition kamikaze (self-destruct) drone that loiters over the battlefield and destroys enemy’s radar positions by self-destructing itself over the target. A total of fifty such drones were purchased from Israel at a cost of $100 million in 2014.
Joint ventures between India and Israel
Barak-8 joint venture: Barak-8, also known as Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MR-SAM) and Barak-8 Extended Range or Long-Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), is an Indo-Israeli surface-to-air missile (SAM), capable of destroying enemy’s fighter aircrafts, helicopters, cruise missiles, UAVs, and ballistic missiles.
Furthermore, the missile is being jointly developed by Israel’s Elta Systems, Rafael Advanced Systems Ltd, Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
Five regiments of the MR-SAM have been ordered by the Indian Army, which consists of 40 launchers and 200 missiles. Likewise, an order for Barak-8 missiles has also been placed by the Indian Navy to equip its Visakhapatnam and Kolkata-class destroyers.
Hermes-900 joint venture: Not only state-run companies but India’s private firms have also collaborated with Israeli companies, giving a push to Make in India. As an example, Adani Defence and Elbit Systems had set up India’s first private drone manufacturing facility in the city of Hyderabad that manufactures the Hermes-900 drone.
Adani-PLR and IWI joint venture: Punj Lloyd and Adani Defence, along with Israeli Weapon Industries manufacture the Tavor assault rifle, which is used by the Indian Special Forces like Para-SF, Marcos and Garud.
Other joint ventures: More successful joint ventures include the collaboration between UVision, an Israeli company that makes loitering munitions, with India’s Aditya Precitech to manufacture the PALM (Precision Attack Loitering Munition) Hero system.
What makes Israel a reliable defence partner?
After the end of the Cold War, India managed to significantly diversify its list of arms suppliers. Indian armed forces need technologies and ammunition that are adaptable to different weaponry and Israeli weapons can be flexibly deployed to various wings of the military, thus simplifying the operations during mission time.
Another reason why Israeli weapons are preferred by Indian armed forces is that Israeli weapons are combat-proven and continue to prove their capabilities in multiple conflicts around the world. Also, the after-sales support provided by Israeli defence companies helps the Indian armed forces maintain a high serviceability rate.
It could also be said that the advancements made by Israel in the last few years in the UAV, radar, and electronics sector are awe-inspiring and attract India as it seeks to upgrade its armed forces. Having considered the effectiveness of Israeli drones during the recent Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, Indian armed forces are keen on buying High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) and Medium-Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) tactical drones from Israel to protect India’s borders and strategically important sites.
It is evident from the preceding paragraph that Israeli imports are instrumental for India in patrolling and surveillance purposes in peacetime and increase the operational ability of India’s armed forces in wartime. For instance, the missile defence systems and ammunition provided by Israel played a crucial role in controlling the escalation between India and Pakistan post-Balakot airstrikes.
Moreover, in the purview of increasing defence sales, Israeli defence manufacturers have established reliable joint ventures with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and other private firms, which helps Indian firms gain experience in defence manufacturing.
The Sky is the Limit
A spokesperson of the Israeli Aerospace Industries in a press conference said, “If you want to work in India, you don’t just sell products, you need to create your own ecosystem and it is that ecosystem that Israeli companies are targeting”. The export-oriented Israeli defence industry and its openness to establish joint ventures complement both ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make with India’ in defence.
Correspondingly, Ze’ev Mivtzari, Corporate Vice President of Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) in an interview said that “The bilateral ties between both countries have seen an amplification in the last few years''. He also added, “Increased cooperation between both countries has opened new doors for new joint ventures in the defence sector and the sky is the limit for cooperation between both countries”.
Conclusively, the arms trade will remain the bedrock of the bilateral engagement as the two nations seek a wider convergence. With the winds blowing in the favour of a strong strategic partnership between India and Israel, it is high time that India makes use of the technological expertise from Israel to support its defence industry at home and promote self-reliance in defence.
Withstanding all the geopolitical pressure, Israel has stood with India through thick and thin and will continue to do so as the cooperation between both countries increases with time. All in all, one can hope for a strong relationship where both countries help and support each other in times of need.