indo-israel defense deals could unleash a 'lethal arms race' in the region - dr. zafar nawaz jaspal

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India’s shopping spree for military hardware, in order to modernize its armed forces, makes it an attractive prospect for Israel’s military-industrial complex. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government finalized several defense deals with Israel to purchase sophisticated missile technology and systems that would improve the operability of its offensive and defensive missile facilities.

India, on its part, is pursuing an ambitious regional agenda to be a superpower. US President Donald Trump’s National Security Strategy – which was released on December 18, 2017 — applauds India’s “leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region” to balance China in the Asian strategic setting. Indeed, for such a role, India requires a more lethal, resilient, and rapidly developing military force.

On May 20 last year, the Modi government announced its plans to spend $250 billion on the modernization of its armed forces over the next decade, as well as initiating 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in the defense sector. This follows a belief that the FDI in the defense sector “could be the most trusted route to technology transfer, which would help in increasing the defense production base and providing the much-needed impetus to self-reliance and indigenization in the defense sector”.

India has been importing military equipment including missile-related technologies and material from Israel since 1990. The leading Indian missile scientist, Dr Abdul Kalam – who went on to become the president of India — visited Israel in June 1996 and again in 1997 to seek its assistance in improving New Delhi’s missile program. Dr Kalam expressed interest in the surface-to-surface missile and theater missile defense systems, its technology and components. Consequently, Israel is currently the second-largest supplier of military equipment to India after Russia, with New Delhi being Tel Aviv’s largest arms purchaser.

In July 2017, the Indo-Israel defense cooperation elevated to a strategic partnership, with its strongest pillar being defense cooperation. This contributes constructively to the modernization of India’s armed forces. It was reported at the time that “India buys more than a $1 billion of equipment every year and that over 40% of Israel’s arms exports in 2012-16 were to India”.

India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and Israel’s Aerospace Industries (IAI) have developed a close working relationship, with the latter transferring sophisticated technology and equipment to India — such as the long-range Phalcon Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS), defensive missile systems, and more.

Additionally, the IAI started a joint venture worth more than $1.5 billion with India’s Kalyani Strategic Systems Limited (KSSL) to develop air defense systems, radars, and anti-ship missiles. In August 2017, the KSSL — with the assistance of Israeli company, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Limited (the manufacturer of the Spike anti-tank guided missile [ATGM]) — inaugurated a factory near Hyderabad to develop Spike ATGM for the Indian Army.

Moreover, Israel will also provide the technological and material assistance to India to develop a medium-range surface-to-air missile (MR-SAM) system for its army. The MR-SAM would be manufactured in India and nearly 80 percent indigenous (Indian) content would be used in manufacturing the missile. With a range of 50-70 km, the missile is designed to defend against any type of airborne threats including from aircraft, helicopters, anti-ship missiles, UAVs, as well as cruise missiles and combat jets.

On February 22 last year, India’s Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Modi – which is responsible for military equipment procurement and development — approved 17,000-crore ($ 2.5 billion) for the manufacturing of the MR-SAM. Five regiments of the Indian Army would benefit from this Indo-Israel missile contract. The deal is for 200 missiles for five regiments, with each getting 40 units.

It was reported that the system will be based on “the older Barak system of Israel, which is in use in India. It is being changed as per requirements”.Both the Indian Army and the Navy bought the Barak-8 air defense systems, worth $2 billion, from the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) in April 2017. The new Barak missile is a supersonic, vertically-launched, short-range air defense system, with an operational range of nearly 10 km/6miles.

India has been developing its indigenous missile shield despite the technological impediments. It needs modern, early-warning radars to guide interceptors, which it plans to purchase from Israel. Although the development of the missile defense systems is defensive in nature, it dents the credibility of the offensive missiles and destabilizes the deterrence stability, which is based on the threat of retaliation. Thus, the missile shield would unleash a lethal arms race in the region.

India’s colossal investment in the military sector and the willingness of technologically-advanced nations to sell it their modern military hardware disturbs New Delhi’s neighbors, including Pakistan. However, it is debatable whether India would be able to establish its hegemony in South Asia and balance the increasing influence of China in the region.

The Indo-Israel defense partnership adds to India’s military buildup and undermines the security of its neighboring states. Islamabad cannot ignore New Delhi’s increasing military competence. Hence it has been refurbishing its military capabilities and advancing its ballistic and cruise missiles to balance India’s increasing military competency.

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Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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