Here in strength, on the back of a vigorously growing relationship
On the ground floor of Hall number 18 at the ongoing Defence Expo in the capital, at the Elbit systems stall in the Israel pavilion, British actor William Chitty is getting ready for his next performance.
The lights dim in the small, makeshift auditorium which has a single bench – on which are seated Israel’s director-general for defence production, Udi Shani, and its ambassador to India, Mark Sofer, among others – and the American voice-over on the documentary tape takes over.
10-9-8-7-6-5…At the blast-off stage, Chitty steps on to the stage, wearing military fatigues and carrying an empty duffel bag. For the next five minutes, Chitty is in perfect harmony with the documentary promoting Elbit defence systems on the screen behind him. It’s a master performance and it sets Elbit apart. It’s also, clearly, the star attraction in an exhibition packed with state-of-the-art weapons and other gizmos, all hoping to lure representatives of the Indian government. Who, by all accounts, are getting ready to spend $100 billion (Rs 4.6 lakh crore) on the acquisition of defence equipment over the next 10 years.
All the big names of Israel’s defence industry are present, including Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which is helping co-develop the medium-range surface-to-air missile, and Israel Military Industries (IMI). That the pavilion has taken the largest space in the exhibition is an indication of the strength of the ongoing defence and strategic relationship, currently worth at least $1 billion (Rs 4,620 crore).
“Let me put it like this,” Sofer tells Business Standard. “The simple fact is that India is one of the largest defence markets in the world and you simply cannot afford not to be here.”
Neither Sofer nor any of the Israeli officials are willing to talk about what they want to sell India. Suffice to say that after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, defence and security cooperation has grown by leaps and bounds, as Israel has offered high-tech weaponry — including devices that can see through and around walls – and according to some reports, even training of Indian security personnel.
The secrecy suits New Delhi equally well. The Central Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the Barak missile deal continues, even as the Israeli business journal, Globes, noted that the medium range surface-to-air missile deal (MRSAM), signed only two days before the model code of conduct came into play before general elections last year, was kept secret because New Delhi wanted it.
According to Globes,IAI felt that “early disclosure was liable to cause material difficulties in execution of the contract and even result in its cancellation”.
Clearly, the competition is getting fierce and Israel, like other major suppliers, is facing the heat. But, because Israel is not in the big defence platforms market – unlike Russia, France or the US – but prefers to do high-tech avionics, it has managed to stay ahead of the curve.
Over the past couple of months, visits by Israel’s chief of defence staff, General Gabi Ashkenazi, and Indian army chief Deepak Kapoor testify to the growing confidence in the defence relationship. On the record, the Israelis are supplying India with Barak, as well as 18 low-level quick-reaction SpyDer missile systems for Rs 1,800 crore, four more EL/M-2083 Aerostat radars for Rs 145 crore, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and Phalcon radars for the Airborne Warning and Control Systems.
Several systems are also being jointly developed, including the Rs 10,000-crore MRSAM, capable of detecting and destroying hostile aircraft and drones at a distance of 120 km,as well as a DRDO-IAI project to develop a supersonic 70-km Barak-2 missile at a cost of Rs 2,600 crore for the Indian Navy.
Significantly, India also launched an Israeli-made 300-kg radar imaging spy satellite in April 2009, so as to keep a 24-hour watch on its tense borders, including the tracking of militants. In January 2008, Indian Space Research Organisation had launched an Israeli satellite. In fact, the acquisition of this satellite was fast-tracked after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.