INDIA WARY OF COST OF MISSILE JOINT VENTURES WITH ISRAEL
India plans to further expand its strategic ties with Israel through more R&D projects to develop hi-tech weapon systems, as also clinch several deals in the pipeline, but has expressed concern over the exorbitant costs involved in deploying a jointly-developed surface-to-air missile system on frontline Indian warships.
Sources said this came through in the 12th meeting of the high-powered joint working group between the two countries, co-chaired by defence secretary G Mohan Kumar and director general of Israeli defence ministry Major General Udi Adam (retd), which was held in New Delhi on July 13.
Though there has been no official word on the JWG meeting, sources said defence minister Manohar Parrikar has red-flagged the "high costs" involved in production of the medium-range surface-to-air missile (MR-SAM) systems called Barak-8 by Israel.
First, there was a huge delay by DRDO-Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) joint venture to develop and test the MR-SAM systems, which are to be produced in bulk by defence PSU Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL). Now, the projected costs in deploying them have also raised eyebrows.
As earlier reported by TOI, while the naval MR-SAM project was sanctioned by the Cabinet Committee on Security in December 2005 at an initial cost of Rs 2,606 crore, the IAF one for nine squadrons worth Rs 10,076 crore was cleared in February 2009. While the naval system was tested for the first time in November 2014, the IAF one was tested thrice earlier this month.
With an over 70-km interception range against enemy aircraft, drones and missiles, the naval MR-SAM has already been fitted on the three new Kolkata-class destroyers. But each MR-SAM system is now projected to cost around Rs 1,200 crore for the 12 under-construction warships in Indian shipyards, including aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, four guided-missile destroyers and seven stealth frigates. "Consequently, the orders are on hold as of now. A review to cut costs is in progress," said a defence ministry source.
This has also led to the estimated Rs 14,000-crore Army project to acquire these MR-SAMs, which come with missiles, launchers, surveillance and threat tracking radars, and fire control systems, to be kept in abeyance till now.
The JWG also discussed probable joint R&D projects in fields like high-endurance UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), micro-satellite surveillance systems, armoured vehicles and different types of missiles and precision-guided munitions, said sources.
Then, there are several big-ticket deals in the pipeline. These include two more Israeli Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems), which are to be mounted on Russian IL-76 military aircraft, and four more Aerostat radars.
The IAF is also on course to acquire 164 laser-designation pods or 'Litening-4' for fighter jets like Sukhoi-30MKIs and Jaguars as well as 250 advanced 'Spice" precision stand-off bombs capable of taking out fortified enemy underground command centers.
The Army, in turn, is looking to acquire the Israeli third-generation Spike anti-tank guided missile systems, with an initial 321 launchers and 8,356 missiles, which too is making slow progress due to the high costs involved. The force is likely to go in for an initial two regiments of the Israeli Spyder quick-reaction SAM systems to defend its forward units for enemy air strikes.