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India’s Israel relationship transforming into a strategic multifarious partnership with defense and security cooperation

Since India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992, relations between the two countries have grown at an astonishing pace, covering a wide range of issues from defence and homeland security, to agriculture and water management, and now education and even outer space.


Both governments have taken a number of steps to maximize the common meeting points, i.e. the India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund (I4F), the India-Israel CEO forum, the India-Israel Innovation Bridge, an online platform to encourage and facilitate collaboration between Israeli and Indian startups; the Indo-Israeli Agriculture Project; MoUs (memorandums of understanding) between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Israel Space Agency (ISA); and MoUs on India-Israel water cooperation.


There had been collaborations in the areas of what is called civilian technological innovations such as agriculture between both the countries. In recent times, particularly after the coming of the Modi led government in 2014, the Indo-Israeli relationship have grown to areas such as
internal security, joint military exercises, and other areas of trade. India and Israel have more in common besides the trade and commerce relationship. India’s strong ties with South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Gulf states like UAE and Saudi Arabia contribute to relations with Israel as it stands as an ally with all these nations as well. India’s broad-spectrum relationship with Israel transformed into a strategic partnership in 2017, a quarter century after the establishment of full diplomatic ties.


During his visit to Israel Prime Minister Modi, along with Prime Minister Netanyahu, launched the India-Israel Global Innovation Challenge and called on Israeli and Indian startups to develop solutions in the areas of agriculture, water and digital health. A number of startups, entrepreneurs and research teams of both sides have actively participated. There is a need to promote such a culture of co-production among the defense and security SMEs of both sides too.


However, Israel maintains strong ties with both India and China. The tensions between India and China in the Galwan valley to a savagery clash between the troops of two neighbouring countries on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), leaving 20 Indian troops dead and an unknown number of Chinese casualties. Chinese companies in Israel are working on deals reaching a value of $20 billion. With the US waging a trade war with China, it is pressurising its allies like the UK and Israel to cut ties in order to punish China for hiding news of the original outbreak of the virus and not taking enough steps to stop it from reaching the US. The relationship shared between India and Israel stems from a strong defence and technology trade. According to Seth J. Frantzman, writing for The Jerusalem Post, Israel has a strategic partnership with India, and Israel has been pressured in recent years by the US to reduce its warming relations with China.


In a recent speech to Indian armed forces posted in Leh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reasserted India’s determination to the Self-Reliance goal when he said: “after getting inspired by you, the resolve of a self-reliant India becomes even more powerful.” Israel can be important country to assist India in it’s  Self-Reliant India mission and  as an opportunity to pursue higher aims together. Israel is one of the most trusted defense partners and top drone exporter of India. India’s military drone fleet is largely made up of Israel Aerospace Industries’ Searchers, Herons, and Harops. In the last few years, some efforts to initiate joint R&D and UAV manufacturing units between Indian and Israeli public-private sector have been initiated.


Defense and Security Collaboration

The defense and security cooperation is the most crucial strategic asset for both nations. To identify collaborative ways to deal with the mutual threats requires military and counter-terrorism experts to conduct in-depth deliberations.


India has been the world’s largest arms importer for decades now; its top suppliers are Russia, the US, Israel, the United Kingdom (UK) and France. In the last 10 years, India has imported a diverse range of missiles from Israel, including beyond visual range air-to-air Missile (BVRAAM), guided bombs, loitering ammunition and surface-to-air (SAM) missiles. These missiles are multi-purpose and are launchable from all land, water and air-based platforms. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2018 report India buys almost half of all the exports of the Israeli defence equipment and technologies. Israel’s burgeoning defence sector relies heavily on exports. It is the world’s largest exporter of arms in relation to the size of its economy: 75% of its defence manufacturing is for export (with India being its largest buyer in the last five years).


For India, the credibility of Israel as a reliable defence partner was reinforced during the Kargil War of 1999 when it supplied the Indian Air Force (IAF) with the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) ‘Searcher’ and surveillance systems for Jaguar and Mirage squadrons. It also upgraded the MiG-21 combat aircraft for the IAF.  The Indian Army also received Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) and 160-mm mortar ammunition. In the 2000s, the India-Israel arms trade mostly involved surveillance and intelligence-related equipment – notably Super Dvora-class patrol vessels and the airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system EL/M-2075 Phalcon.


India also purchased 98 Searcher and 50 Heron UAVs. Heron is the Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial system used for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance purposes. It is a high-endurance drone that can fly to heights of up to 35,000 ft. for more than 45 hours at a time. It has a visual line-of-sight (LOS) range of 350 km and beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) range of 1,000 km. For the BLOS operations, the visual feed is transmitted to the control room via satellite communication (SATCOM).  Searcher is a multi-mission tactical UAV for surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition, artillery adjustment and damage assessment. Capable of real-time gathering and data transmission, it can continuously fly for up to 20 hours within a range of 300 km. Apart from the smaller size and reduced radar detection, the four-stroke silent gasoline engine ensures audio stealth that makes it stand out from Heron. In 2010, India procured two Searcher Mk-II drones from Israel. As India shares a long border with its potential adversaries in both the western and eastern fronts, the use of drones for intelligence gathering makes this highly efficient.


Israel supplied Barak surface-to-air missile system with the Vertical Launching System (VLS) module for the modernisation of the Indian Navy during the period 2003-2006.  Israel and India have continued to sign joint venture defence deals and collaborate with the ‘Make in India’ movement to manufacture defence equipment and systems in India. Israeli companies like Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, all have significant partnerships in India.


Counter terrorism

India and Israel are boosting up the counter-terrorism cooperation and sharing real-time intelligence on issues crucial to national security.

Israel’s counter-terrorism response is much tougher on civilians. Between 2009 and 2019, Israel killed 1,771 Palestinian civilians while Kashmir saw 647 civilian fatalities, however, over half of them were victims of terrorists, not Indian forces. Adjusting for population, Kashmir had 9.3 civilian fatalities per 100,000 population, whereas, it was 36.7 in Palestinian territories. Even though India kills more terrorists than Israel, it also loses more security force personnel — 674 in the 2009-2019 period, to 95 of Israel. This shouldn’t surprise us: Israel spends far more on resourcing its forces. Everything from air reconnaissance to night vision is routinely available to Israeli troops; not so for Indians.


The training of the Indian police and special forces in Israel initiated in 2014 has already been reflected in different places in India including the current handling of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. In Kashmir, Israeli and Indian forces have conducted joint training operations as well.

Israeli companies such as Nice Systems have been deployed for the security of India’s parliament, following the attack on it in 2001. Given the sensitivities of transactions inside country’s Parliament trusting an Israeli private company to take charge of its data security aspects is quite telling of the trust between the ruling classes of both the countries.


Cyber Security Collaboration

India and Israel have signed an agreement to further expand collaboration in dealing with cyber threats amid rapid digitisation due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that exposed the vulnerabilities of the virtual world. The agreement was signed in July 2020 between the Director-General of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate (INCD), Yigal Unna, and India’s Ambassador to Israel, Sanjeev Singla. The MoU signed between the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), a unit of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, and INCD deepens the operational cooperation between the two sides and will expand the scope of exchange of information on cyber threats in order to raise the levels of protection in the field.


“The accelerated digitisation processes that accompany the enormous challenge of dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic and the increase in threats in cyberspace bring with them challenges and the need to quickly build protected services and systems,” Mr. Unna told PTI after signing the agreement. “Israel can contribute from its experience and can benefit from the vast experience gained in India in dealing with cyber attacks,” he added.


With more than 300 cybersecurity startups and approximately $6.5 billion of cyber product exports, Israel has become a cybersecurity powerhouse. Cyber security was identified as an important area of cooperation during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in July 2017 and an agreement was signed between the two sides during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India the following year. In a joint statement issued during Prime Minister Modi’s Israel visit, both sides asserted their desire to institutionalize cooperation on cyber issues through a joint framework. And as Isaac Ben-Israel, chairman of the ISA and National R&D Council and head of Cyber Research Center at Tel Aviv University has said: “We have developed a lot of technology but there is just not enough of a market. India has a huge market and there is a lot of potential for cooperation between the two countries.”


Sensor and Surveillance systems

India has purchased numerous sensors from Israel for reconnaissance and intelligence purposes for its naval vessels and aircrafts. Most of them are EL/M-series radars are constructed by ELTA systems with IAI and used for ground surveillance, multi-purpose, air search and fire control radars.


The major naval radars imported from Israel in the last 10 years include EL/M 2248 MF-STAR and EL/M-2221 STGR. The EL/M 2248 MF-STAR is a digital active electronic-scan array (AESA) multi-function radar used for maritime surveillance.  With a range greater than 250 km (corvette version) and 450 km (frigate version), 360° azimuth coverage and elevation coverage of -20° to +85°, it can be used for blue water and littoral warfare support. In 2013, the government approved four more radars to deployed on the INS Visakhapatnam (Project-15B) destroyers. In 2016, India imported the multi-function radar for the indigenous Kolkata-class (Project-15A) destroyer.


The EL/M-2221 STGR (Search Track and Guidance/Gunnery Radar) is a fire control radar that guides the warhead to air or sea-based targets.[59] From 2015 to 2017, India imported the STGR radar from 2015-2017 to make INS Kolkata, INS Shivalik and Kamorta-class frigates compatible for deploying BARAK-8 SAM missiles. In 2014, India placed an order of the four STGR radars that will be fitted in the INS Visakhapatnam. The EL/M-2032 is multi-mode airborne fire control radar is designed for strike missions in air-to-air combat and air-to-sea combat.[61] In 2016-18, nine EL/M 2032 were imported from IAI for the Tejas LCA Mk-I combat aircraft.


The airborne warning and control system (AWACS) EL/M-2075 Phalcon, also hailed as IAF’s “eyes in the skies” was first inducted in 2009 after a US$1.1-billion deal with IAI. Three AWACS were installed on the Russian transport aircraft IL-76 in a trilateral agreement. Phalcon performs the surveillance and intelligence gathering beyond the visual range to warn against the incoming missiles or aircrafts in the airspace.


Missile development

In 2018, the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the project worth INR 170 billion (US$2.5 billion) for procuring MRSAM for the army. These missiles will be jointly developed by Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) in a boost to Make-in-India in defence.


With the latest deal, the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) said that the sale of Barak 8 system — jointly developed by India and Israel — a sign of strong bilateral partnership in defence, has crossed USD 6 billion over the past few years. The system provides broad aerial and point defence against a wide range of threats to the marine arena from the air, sea or land. The system integrates several advanced systems as digital radar, command and control, launchers, interceptors . Barak 8 is an operational system that provides a full response to a range of threats, built to cooperate with other systems, it provides customers with operational flexibility for maximum effectiveness on the battlefield, Levi said.


The surface-to-air missile BARAK can also be deployed as low-range air defence (LRAD) interceptor. In India, the BARAK-LRAD version is known as BARAK-8 (for naval vessels) or Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missile (MRSAM) system (for land-based launchers). It has vertical launch capabilities till 70 km height and supports 360° manoeuvrability. Imbibed with an active high-end RF seeker for targets, BARAK also has low launch signature.  Earlier in August, Israel Navy’s Sa’ar-6 corvettes had announced that it will be using Barak 8 system to protect Israel’s exclusive economic zone and strategic facilities which are faced with diversified threats in the marine arena.


Python-5 is a full-sphere infrared air-to-air missile i.e. it can be fired in any direction and azimuthal angle. Endowed with a unique LOAL and LOBL feature, it is a dual-use missile which can also be fired from the surface. Fitted in the SPYDER air defence system. Python-5 has a unique ability to be adaptable in a plethora of aircraft. It is especially useful for IAF due to its diverse fleet consisting of Mirage-2000, Jaguar, MiG-21, MiG-29, Su-30 with Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) soon to join.


Python-5 is complemented by Derby, an active radar air-to-air missile which can be used for both short ranges and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) interceptions. India placed an order for 750 Python-5 and Derby missiles each in 2008; they were delivered by 2017, since then constituting the backbone of India’s air defence system. It was a Derby that shot down the Pakistani patrolling drone after the Balakot air strikes in February 2019.


The IAI-made Griffin uses a laser-guided module, especially for combat aircrafts to conduct high-precision strikes (with CEP < 1.5 m)  against ground targets.  It can take several trajectories to counter the air defence system of the adversary. Griffin can also be launched from ground-based platforms.


Loitering munition (or kamikaze/suicide) drones combine the features of UAVs and guided bombs. They loiter around the target area for some time after which they lock on to their targets and destroy them. Developed by IAI, HAROP is an electro-optically guided weapon that is highly suited to shoot down moving targets. It operates within a range of 200 km and can endure more than nine hours of flight on one refuelling. India inducted 50 Harop suicide drones in 2013-14 as part of a US$100-million deal.  New Delhi further approved the purchase of 54 more drones in February 2019.


The Crystal Maze is an Indian variant of the air-to-surface (ASM) missile AGM-142A Popeye – jointly developed by the Israeli-based Rafael and US-based Lockheed Martin. It can be used to strike targets at a distance of 75-80 km – both on land as well as sea – with high precision (CEP < 3 m). Owing to its high range, the carrier aircraft does not have to approach the surface and thus protected from enemy air defence systems. In 2010, India imported 30 Crystal Maze from Israel which were also used in the Balakot air strikes alongside SPICE-2000 PGBs.


Air Defence

In 2008, India ordered the SPYDER-MR air defence system from Israel. SPYDER is a low-level quick reaction missile (LLQRM) system developed by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, an Israeli defence-technology company.  It is used to protect critical infrastructure in ground-to-air missions from wide-spectrum of incoming air-borne threats ranging from aircrafts, helicopters, UAVs, precision-guided munitions (PGMs). It offers both lock-on before launch (LOBL) and lock-on after launch (LOAL) capabilities with I-Derby and Python-5 missiles.


The Medium Range (MR) version of SPYDER (Surface-to-air Python-5 Derby) purchased by India offers target interception through vertical launch, thereby creating a protective dome of 80 km radius. It uses electro-optic payloads and wireless data link communications to ensure all-weather, multi-launch and network-centric capabilities. India successfully test fired the SPYDER-MR system in May 2017.


Ballistic Missile Defense

India already has a tested and proven anti-missile ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) but wants something like the anti-missile system Israel has developed and deployed over the last two decades. The Indian anti-missile missiles come in two sizes. The Prithvi Air Defense (PAD) missile is the larger of the two and is used for high altitude (50-80 kilometers up) interception. The short range Advanced Air Defense (AAD) missile is used for low altitude (up to 30 kilometers) intercepts. The two missiles, in conjunction with a radar system based on the Israeli Green Pine (used with the Arrow anti-missile missile), provide defense from ballistic missiles fired as far as 5,000 kilometers away. A third interceptor, the PDV, is a hypersonic missile that can take down missiles as high as 150 kilometers and is still in development. India is the fifth nation to develop such anti-missile technology.


Back in 2003 India ordered two Israeli Green Pine anti-ballistic missile radars. That equipment was used in 2007 in one of the first successful Indian tests, where one ballistic missile was fired at another “incoming” one. The Israeli Green Pine radar was originally developed for Israel’s Arrow anti-ballistic missile system. Arrow was built, in cooperation with the United States, to defend Israel from Iranian and Syrian ballistic missiles. India has since developed, with Israeli help, the Swordfish radar, which has similar capabilities to the Green Pine and has been operational since 2011. Swordfish is part of a system that integrates data from satellites and other sources in order to detect and track incoming missiles.


To achieve strategically critical self-reliance in defence production, there needs to be a greater focus on co-development, co-production projects with important partners like Israel, with an essential emphasis on exports to third countries. For the full realisation of the potential of the India–Israel defence partnership, India on its part needs to strengthen elements of its procurement processes—including the proper implementation of laid down policies.


Digital Army

The “Digital Army” concept is not limited to the use of digital technologies; it is also about having a seamless coordination mechanism which provides actionable and real-time information. Israel was among the first nations to launch the Digital Army initiative. In the year 2004, Elbit Systems signed an agreement with the Defense Ministry for the Digital Army Program (DAP) for a period of 10 years (2004- 2014). Rafael Armament Development Authority Ltd. and Tadiran Systems Ltd partnered with Elbit Systems for DAP. In 2014, the IDF concluded the deployment of the Tzayad (Digital Land Army) system in all of its field formations and now they are working to build the next generation of the Israeli army’s digital C4I network. In 2015, India launched it’s Digital Army program. Israeli experience in building and running a robust DAP can give the right push to India’s Digital Army initiative.


India-Israel defense Industry cooperation

There is another dimension to India’s growing militarism where again Israel is a key player. India’s defence sector has predominantly been a public sector enterprise. According to science and defence expert D Raghunanadan, “Small and medium private enterprises have long been providing ancillary services to defence PSUs”. That picture is geared towards a change now. With the opening up of foreign direct investments in the defence sector, major private players are now making forays into the field.


The growing military ties with Israel are giving a firm push to a corporate-driven military industrial complex in India. Israeli defense players are actively participating in the “Make in India” initiative and they have formed a number of joint ventures (JVs) with Indian partners. Israel’s Elbit group has formed a number of joint ventures with Indian companies, such as Adani-Elbit Advanced Systems India Ltd, a JV to manufacture UAVs in India. Elbit Systems’ ISTAR Division has formed a joint venture with Adani Group’s unit Aero Defence Systems & Technologies and Alpha Design Technologies to manufacture UAVs in India. Since 2004, Elbit Security Systems and Alpha Design Technologies are engaged in another joint venture – Alpha-Elsec Defence and Aerospace Systems. This year, in July, both sides renewed the agreement to enhance the scope of operation of this JV.


In 2018, India’s Mahindra Defense and Israeli company Aeronautics Ltd signed a partnership deal for the production of Naval Shipborne UAVs. Under this partnership, the maritime version of Orbiter 4 will be developed for the Indian Navy. In the same year, India’s Adani Defence & Aerospace and Israel based Elbit Systems inaugurated a joint drone manufacturing facility called Adani-Elbit UAV complex, in Hyderabad, India. According to their official statement “the 50,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility would be the first UAV manufacturing facility in India and the first outside Israel to manufacture the Hermes 900 Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAV.” This joint manufacturing unit will soon start catering to the global markets.


In early 2017, IAI inked an MoU with Kalyani Strategic Systems to develop, build and market selected air defense systems and lightweight special purpose munitions. IAI has also entered into a cooperation agreement with Dynamatic Technologies and Elcom Systems for the production/assembly and maintenance work of mini-UAVs in India. At Aero India 2017, IAI’s Golan Industries Division signed an MoU with Taneja Aerospace & Aviation Ltd. (TAAL) to cooperate in the development, production, marketing and sale of civil and military aircraft seats. In the month of January 2016, IAI signed an MoU with Premier Explosives Ltd. In July this year, IAI and Wipro Infrastructure Engineering (WIN) announced a strategic alliance to manufacture composite aerostructure parts and assemblies.


India’s Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division (Tata Power SED) partnered with DSIT Solutions of Israel to supply portable diver detection sonar (PDDS) to the Indian Navy. Tata Advanced Systems and ELTA Systems of Israel have formed a JV called HELA Systems.
India’s Mahindra group has also formed JVs with Israeli defense partners. Mahindra Aero Structures signed an MoU with Cyclone, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, to collaborate on the production of aerostructures parts and assemblies. Mahindra group’s Mahindra Telephonics has signed an MoU with Shachaf Engineering of Israel. Both will jointly develop strategic electronics subassemblies and systems for aerospace, marine and automotive applications.


In 2017, India’s Dynamatic Technologies Ltd and Magal Security Systems of Israel partnered for India’s smart border management initiative. Both companies have rich experience in developing advanced technological solutions crucial for the protection of critical infrastructure and border management.

IN 2015, Kalyani Strategic Systems, a defense arm of Kalyani group, entered into a JV with Israeli government- owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems. The Kalyani Rafael Advanced Systems Pvt Ltd has invested in the high-end technology and advanced manufacturing techniques to develop missile technology, command and control systems, guidance systems, electro-optics, remote weapon systems, precision guided munitions and more. Rafael has also signed an agreement with Hyderabad-based Astra Microwave Products Ltd to build tactical radio communication systems, electronic warfare systems and signal intelligence systems. India’s Punj Lloyd and Israel’s IWI (Israel Weapon Industries Ltd.) have set up the first private sector small arms manufacturing plant in Madhya Pradesh, to produce equipment for both local and export use.


The Barak 8 (LR-SAM or MR-SAM) is the product of the joint efforts of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), India’s Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO), MAFAT (a joint administrative body of the Israeli Defense Ministry and IDF), Rafael, and Bharat Dynamics Ltd.


During 2015-16, approximately $317 million of Make-in-India defense platforms, equipment and spares were exported to over 28 countries in the world. A few days back India joined the Wassenaar Arrangement, a multilateral export control bloc. In June 2016, India was admitted to MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) too. India has joined two out of four major multilateral export control regimes. Israeli defense manufactures are now considering India as an export hub too. The Indian government’s “Make in India” and “Make with India” initiatives offer such opportunities.


SME Collaboration

During the past three years, the Indian government has launched wide-ranging plans for military modernization, police force modernization and border management and these initiatives offer great opportunities for defense and security startups/SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) collaboration. India and Israel both have vibrant startup ecosystems with an emerging interest in drone technologies. In India, a number of MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) used to serve as the suppliers to DPSUs (Defense Public Sector Undertakings) and they are the key players behind the success of some major defense manufacturing projects. According to the Dhirendra Singh Committee’s report (a committee set up by India’s Defense Ministry in 2015), nearly 6,000 MSMEs across the country are supplying the components and sub-assemblies to the DPSUs, ordnance factories, DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organizations) and private industries. There are several enthusiastic startups/MSMEs in India, which can develop best in class unmanned aerial systems.


In Israel’s defense industry the contribution of the SME sector is significant. Despite being relatively low in numbers, these SMEs provide added value to the larger firms and are crucial for boosting Israel’s defense exports. In 2014, the SME department of SIBAT (the Defense Ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate) launched a dedicated forum to provide guidance and consultancy about exports to the representatives of Israeli defense SMEs and to promote the country’s defense SMEs in international markets.

The large market for cyber operations in India can help these incubating start-ups. The MoU also envisions to promote B2B operations in cyber security operations and organising summits. The Indian company Tech Mahindra is collaborating with the Israel-based ELTA systems to provide cyber solutions to government and enterprise customers in the country




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