Beyond guns and missiles, real juice of India-Israel defence ties is in the “small stuff”

As PM Modi visits Israel, specialised Indian defence companies sign tech transfer, JV agreements critical to India’s strategic goal of creating a multi-layered domestic arms industry.

Much of the focus on defence cooperation between India and Israel is on the big guns – from multi-billion dollar anti-aircraft missiles to drones prepped for cross-border strikes and high-end intelligence gathering systems that are being bought for the Indian armed forces.

The real juice – which will drive meaningful joint projects to meet the common threats faced by the two countries – is however in the smaller stuff that has actually been signed on the side lines during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel.

Officially there have been no new announcements on weapon systems or joint developmental projects. But it is known that India signed up for over $2 billion worth of anti-aircraft missiles in April and is awaiting its first armed drones from Israel under a $400 million deal.

However, private Indian players have during the visit joined hands with smaller Israeli firms which are actually driving defence technology innovation. These announcements are comparatively small – from thermal imager-based systems to air surveillance aerostats, strategic electronics and medium Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – but are critical to India’s strategic goal of creating a multi-layered domestic arms industry.

Little known in the Indian defence industry, Garware-Wall Ropes Ltd. (GWRL), for example, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel’s Aero-T for manufacturing and supplying advanced aerostats systems for India.

Vital to both air defence and intelligence gathering aerostats are tethered balloons that operate at altitudes of 15,000 ft and serve as early warning systems against enemy air attacks as well as for low level ground surveillance. At present, India operates Israeli built aerostats on the Pakistan border.

Well known defence player Mahindra Telephonics has tied up with Shachaf Engineering of Israel to jointly develop strategic electronics sub-assemblies and systems for aerospace, marine and even automotive applications. Strategic electronics is another area that India has serious deficiencies in, with most being imported either from Israel or the West.

Alpha Design, headquartered in Bangalore, has signed a multi-million dollar joint venture agreement with Israeli firm Elbit at the visit. This JV is of special interest to the Army, as it focuses on transferring technology related to Thermal Imager-based Fire Control Systems for Tanks and Helicopters, besides Hand-Held Thermal Night Vision Devices needed on the border. The JV also extends to joint development of UAVs.

Yet another tie up between the Indian defence industry and Israeli companies was inked on Thursday, towards the end of PM Modi’s visit. The agreement – to produce unmanned aerial systems in India – is a continuation to the small but significant tie-ups on the defence front during the Modi visit.

Bangalore-based Release Dynamatic Technologies, Israeli IAI and Indian company Elcom signed a `Strategic Teaming Agreement’ to produce, assemble and support UAVs in India. The plan is to create new UAV manufacturing facilities in India and setting up a high-tech training centre to train the workforce. The joint venture is targeting the lucrative Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV market in India and for exports.

“The critical technologies in the form of sensors, electronics, awareness, reconnaissance and more spread across these multitude of deals provide the much needed core ingredients in developing our own home grown products and the confidence that comes with them,” said Ankur Gupta, Vice President, Aerospace and Defence, at consulting firm EY India.

 

Editor’s Note: The article was updated to include the deal between Bangalore-based Release Dynamatic Technologies, Israeli IAI and Indian company Elcom 

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