New Delhi successfully conducted its seventh biennial land, naval and internal
security systems exhibition, a.k.a Defexpo 2012, between 29 March and 1 April.
This mega-event was organized by India’s Defence Exhibition Organisation (DEO),
the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Ordnance
Factory Board (OFB). Major weapons-producing countries took an active part in
this exhibition, including US, Russia, France, Israel, the UK and
This year, it was reported that there were about 232 foreign
firms along with 60 official delegations from the above countries. The flocking
of these giant weapons producers came in consonance with the recent announcement
made by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) of India as
the world’s largest arms importer between 2007 and 2011.
Finance Minister recently announced a 17 percent hike in its defense budget,
taking it to approximately $41 billion. With these advancements in mind, many
global armament giants view India as a lucrative market and were all busy
showcasing their products, including aircraft, helicopters, drones, submarines,
howitzers, infantry combat vehicles, missiles and assault rifles. For these
international vendors, this exhibition is an important opportunity to enter the
Indian defense market.
Among the primary weapons exporters, the
diminutive state of Israel also gained significant recognition. It could also be
recollected that the Israeli pavilion occupied the largest exhibit space during
the 2010 Defexpo, an indication of the robustness of the existing defense
cooperation between India and Israel. On a similar note, this year the Israeli
pavilion maintained its status by being reported as the “most visited” pavilion
at the exhibition.
What enticed the audience was the display of its very
recently developed, state-of-the-art weapons systems, some which have not been
Israeli defense firms such as Elbit Systems, Israel
Aerospace Industries (IAI), Israel Weapon Industries (IWI), etc., endorsed their
finest products to the public. Interestingly, Israel Military Industries (IMI),
one among the many defense companies blacklisted by India’s Defence Ministry on
the charges of corruption, was believed to be present during the Defexpo
Shortly after the announcement of IMI’s inclusion in the blacklist,
an anonymous official from the firm said, “IMI is continuing, and will continue,
to operate with Indian authorities towards settling the matter.” Similarly,
there are Indian officials who are of the view that while these restrictions are
laid in order to curb corruption, a long list of blacklisted firms will, in a
way, hamper India’s military modernization drive.
Some of the weapons
systems displayed by the aforementioned Israeli firms included IAI’s GTADS,
which is a self-contained, tripod-mounted, gyrostabilized observation and
targeting system. This system enables auto-tracking and laser designation of
moving targets, especially for day-and-night target acquisition. The same firm
also showcased its Barak-8 missile defense systems which are designed to counter
several threats and can be launched out of fighters, unmanned aerial vehicles
(UAVs), helicopters and missiles.
EL/I-3360 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, a
multi-role airborne system for providing situational and maritime domain
supremacy, was another featured IAI product, as was the Indian Air Force’s
recently-acquired Harop missile.
Likewise, Elbit Systems also promoted
its cutting-edge artillery and mortar arrays. During the expo, Hermes 900, a
next-generation medium altitudelong endurance (MALE) UAS was unveiled. This is
an electrically propelled system and is capable of operating beneath cloud
But one of the most fascinating displays at the Israeli pavilion
was the IWImanufactured 9mm Uzi Pro submachine gun, which is designed for
special Forces and paramilitary forces. This weapon has been considered one of
the most popular of the Uzi family, with millions of it units sold around the
world. Moreover, it is very suitable in the Indian context, because of its light
weight, for VIP protection and other law enforcement
Alongside this, IWI also unveiled its new model in the Negev
family of light machine guns (LMGs) – NEGEV NG7; Ace family of 5.56mm- and
7.62mm-caliber assault rifles; and Tavor family of 5.56mm-caliber assault
These weapons are reported to have met the requirements of
today’s fighting forces.
Furthermore, if one looks into this event
carefully, it is not only about the promotion of defense equipment but also
about tapping opportunities for furthering arms trade. As a matter of fact, one
of the most prominent features of Indo-Israeli relations is the defense
cooperation. Today, this cooperation remains robust and arms trade has been
soaring since the late 1990s.
Moreover, the approximate volume of arms
trade between India and Israel over the past decade is estimated to be about
$10b. This is a significant figure considering the fact diplomatic ties between
the two countries were established only in 1992.
On the sidelines of this
exhibition, India’s privately-owned Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. agreed to go into
a joint venture (JV) of $19.8 million with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence
Systems Ltd. This JV will enable both the partners to manufacture a wide range
of defense equipment such as Torpedo Defense Systems, Electronic Warfare
Systems, Advanced Armour Solutions and Remotely Operated Weapon Stations for
Futuristic Infantry Combat Vehicles (FICV). Further, the JV has also agreed to
the setting up of a facility in Pune (in India) where most of the naval
equipment will be manufactured.
Also, the JV is hinting at an enhanced
sale of Rafael-made SPIKE missiles to India as well as SPYDER air defence
These developments have clearly signalled a transition from that
of sellerbuyer cooperation toward a joint venture relationship, which is also a
sign of matured ties between India and Israel in the defense arena.
covered by Israeli media recently under the headline “India’s defense market is
becoming an important Israeli target,” both countries are going ahead with their
defense cooperation, notwithstanding criticisms. More agreements between the two
countries are likely to be inked over the next few months, and they are likely
to be in the field of artillery. Besides, Israel’s upgrading skills still entice
Indian defense planners as the latter intend to refurbish outdated and aged
weapons in their stockpile.
The only real concern is history repeating.
In 2009, a bribery allegation against India’s UPA government and Israel’s IAI
rocked the defense cooperation.
At present, the Indian defense
establishment has been shaken by the debacle of an alleged bribery case over
arms purchases involving the present Indian army chief. These factors carry the
potential to undermine the defense-related cooperation between the two
There are also risks of being lambasted by those that are not
very happy with Indo-Israeli relations, especially left-wing parties and the
Muslim populace of India, who have demanding New Delhi to snap ties with the
Considering all these, it remains to be seen to what degree
India can absorb the opportunities provided by the Israeli defense firms without
any kickbacks. In order to solidify the current trend of military-security
cooperation, not only India should adopt stringent measures to tackle this
problem of bribery but Israel should also continue proving its credibility as a
reliable arms exporter.
Moreover, with India’s growing defense budget,
Israel must try to tap this opportunity to sell more weapons systems and strive
unrelentingly to retain its position amongst the world’s top 10 weapons
Finally, if both fail to live up to certain expectations, then
the global arms buyers and suppliers will turn to other options, and that will
come at the cost of India’s choice of armed forces’ cutting- edge equipment and
Israel’s reliance on defense R&D and economy to maintain its
superiority.The writer is an Indian researcher who served as a Fellow at
the BESA Center.