New Delhi: In a bid to deploy the new Rafale aircraft quickly amid tensions with China, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has opted for the French HAMMER air-to-ground precision-guided weapon system. The IAF had rejected this system eight years ago, in favour of the Israeli Spice 2000 used in the Balakot strikes.
HAMMER, which stands for Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range, consists of a guidance kit and a range extension kit fitted on standard bombs of different makes. It was kept out of the 2016 contract for 36 Rafale fighter jets and the weapons package due to its cost, which would have inflated the price of the contract.
However, sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint that the main reason for the choice of the HAMMER, which costs about Rs 70 lakh each, is the ongoing crisis with China. The system is being procured under the new powers extended to the IAF for emergency procurement up to Rs 300 crore under capital budget.
“The IAF wants to operationalise the Rafale fighters faster due to the crisis with China. The Rafale lacks a proper air-to-surface precision missile for a shorter range of about 70 km to take out hardened surfaces, bunkers. And hence, the HAMMER is being bought,” a source said.
It is not immediately known how many systems are being bought.
Sagem, a Safran high-tech company that makes the HAMMER, had in April 2016 signed an agreement with the now scam-tainted OIS-AT, owned by Sanjay Bhandari, for manufacturing the HAMMER system in India. However, the emergency purchase is unlikely to have a ‘Make in India’ component, sources said.
Spice 2000 vs HAMMER
As mentioned above, the original plan was to equip the Rafale with Spice 2000 kits, which have already been integrated into the other French aircraft in the IAF inventory — the Mirage 2000.
“The Spice 2000 needs to be integrated into the Rafale aircraft. The cost of Spice, cost of integration and cost of testing has to be calculated. Plus, the whole process will take time. The Rafale is already capable of firing the HAMMER, and hence, it will allow faster operational deployment,” a second source explained.
The Spice 2000 system had edged out the HAMMER in an IAF competition to arm the Mirage in 2012 — only because the French system was almost double the price of the Israeli system, sources said. They added that the HAMMER, as its full name suggests, is highly agile, and fit for operations in mountainous terrain like Ladakh.
The HAMMER originally comes with a Talios pod for firing, but as reported by ThePrint earlier, the IAF has opted for the Israeli Litening Pod, for sensor commonality across platforms in the Indian inventory and also for keeping the cost low, since Talios was almost double the cost of the Israeli system.
“The Litening Pod or the Talios Pod is essential for dropping laser guided bombs, but not mandatory for any other weapon like the Meteor or SCALP missiles on board the Rafale,” a source said.