India-Israel defence relationship has all along been one of the best, with Israel not hesitating to give us the latest technology. The only operational information system that has been fielded by the Indian Army is the Artillery Command, Control and Communications (ACCCS) System, which is primarily of Elbit Systems, Israel though stamped as BEL. However, the UPA regime was always shy of talking about it openly inexplicable reasons, perhaps suffering dubious complex not to disturb certain relationships despite the fact that no deal can be kept under wraps. But all that has changed.
PM Narendra Modi met Isreali PM Benjamin Netanyahu in New York in September 2014, Moshe Ya’alon became the first Israeli Defence Minister to visit India in February 2015 and EAM Sushma Swaraj visited Israel in January this year albeit after visiting Palestine. So it is not surprising that Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon addressed the media this January saying, “The defence cooperation (between the two countries) for many years has been central pillars of the relationship. The changing world, changing parameters, changing needs are always something that is on the top of our agenda and always on our radar.” He also referred to tests of the Barak 8 missile, both in India and Israel, as shining examples of joint ventures in the defence sphere.
Modi will be the first Indian PM to visit Israel this year. India’s Kalyani group and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems have already struck a joint venture (JV) to develop high-end technologies and weapon systems with Kalyani owning 51% shares. The JV named ‘Kalyani Rafael Advanced Systems’ will will include a wide range of technologies and systems, like Missile Technology, Remote Weapon Systems and Advanced Armour Solutions, as indicated by Israeli sources. Their first venture could start with the production of Spike Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) which the Indian Army is in the process of procuring. However the final deal for Spike is yet to be cleared and contract negotiations are currently underway. The deal reportedly will be top agenda during PM Modi’s visit to Israel. The Rs.3,200 crore deal for the ATGMs was cleared by the DAC in 2014. The deal includes 8,000 plus missiles, 300 plus launchers and requisite technology transfer to the Indian entity.
It may be recalled that in 2013, Bharat Forge had struck a joint venture with Elbit Systems of Israel, BF Elbit Advanced Ltd., which proposed to develop, assemble and manufacture defense systems, particularly artillery and mortar systems and ammunition. Israeli defence companies like IAI, Elbit and Rafael are keen to manufacture UAVs, missiles and other defence equipment through JVs with Indian companies under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. Joseph Betslai, Vice President of IA said precisely this at the Indo-Israel Strategic Cooperation Seminar organized by FICCI. However, Isreali companies have inhibitions about lack of manufacturing expertise, quality standards, risk management and operational performance of Indian companies; there are hardly any indigenous electronics, sensors, airborne quality metals, high quality casting etc, as pointed out by Uzi Melamed of Rafael. With these constraints, Melamed felt that some ventures though labeled ‘Make in India’ may have to have 50% development on foreign soil. With such constraints, FDI does become a sticking point.
According to one report, Israel’s Elbit Systems are to team up with HAL for developing MAVs in India. Israel’s Heron UAV has been with our Military past several years. In 2015 India approved import of Israeli Heron TP unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) for the IAF valued at $400 million. It is obvious that UCAVs will become part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative even as DRDO too has been developing the ‘Aura’ and ‘Rustom’ UCAVs.
There are a host of Israeli companies seeking R&D partners in India. These include: ‘Tracense’ dealing in homeland security, law enforcement and defence sectors is seeking partnership with Indian companies involved with semi-conductors, explosives detection, chemical detectors, system integration; homeland security or law enforcement technologies to develop a portable detector for explosives, chemical and biological warfare agents, narcotics etc; ‘Radar Obstacle Detection (ROD)’ dealing in aeronautics is seeking partnership with Indian partners with aerospace and / or radar and / or defence position in the market; ‘Mediterranean Energy & Ecology Center’ dealing in Clean Technology is looking for Indian partners for Reciprocating Engine-based Polygeneration (Repolygen) technology stationery and marine applications; ‘Gaash Lighting’ dealing in energy is looking for Indian partners with knowledge and experience in Lighting Science and Technology especially in Photometics and Thermodynamics, design of optic systems, thermal conversion and materials, for a developing Energy Harvesting of LED luminaires; BAS – Biological Alarm System’ dealing in Clean-Tech, Water is looking for partners who can develop a special electrode based on anti-bodies for detection of specific harmful bacteria for developing a new microbial identification system to be connected to Red Alert units; ‘PsychTech Ltd’ dealing in Life Sciences is looking for partners in Internet platform based e-learning or medical companies with expertise in standardized content delivery across hardware and software platforms; ‘Emerald Medical Applications Ltd’ dealing in Healthcare IT is looking for Indian partners who are optical medical hardware solutions providers with expertise in medical device hardware engineering and artificial intelligence technology; ‘RF4ID’ dealing in wireless communications / RFID is looking for Indian partners with experience in developing RFID solutions especially for logistics, wireless communications, embedded computers and mechanical engineering.
Other Israeli companies looking for India partners include ‘Decell Technologies’ dealing in transportation, ‘Loginno Logistic Innovation Ltd’ dealing in smart monitoring services, ‘Like-A-Fish Technologies Ltd dealing in the industrial sector and ‘VVB Research’ dealing in industrial technologies. Much more potential exists in Indo-Israel defence cooperation. Israel’s Cyber Seminar was held in Mumbai on 29 December 2015 offering an exclusive program for private firms to grasp on a new idea – Cyber significance in today’s world. Indian companies were invited to Cybertech 2016, held in Tel Aviv, Israel on 26-27 January 2016. Israel also hosted ‘NanoIsrael 2016’ in Tel Aviv this January – the 5th international Nanotechnology Conference & Exhibition. An Israeli delegation headed by Uri Ariel, Israel’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development is headed to India. . A seminar, “Israel Makes in India” is planned during the delegation’s visit to showcase manufacturing activities carried out by Israeli companies in India. Though the Indo-Israel Barak-8 missile system landmark achievement, sky is actually the limit for future of defence cooperation between the two countries.
Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.