India seeks Israel missile deal; Hagel to meet Modi

NEW DELHI - The new Indian government under Narindra Modi’s leadership is moving the cabinet committee on security (CCS) to buy 262 Barak-I anti-ship missile systems and spares, costing nearly Rs. 1,000 crore, from Israel.

The purchase was cleared by defence acquisition council under former defence minister AK Antony last December.

Defence Ministry sources said the CCS note was moved this week for the purchase of the Barak missile from Israeli Aircraft Industries and Rafael Advanced Systems of Israel.

Both firms were probed by the CBI in 2006 for a Rs. 1,100 crore missile deal in 2000 under the previous NDA regime and were black-listed by the UPA regime.

However, the ban on purchase of Barak missiles was lifted by Antony after the Navy raised a hue and cry about protection of its warships from anti-ship missiles.

"India needs Barak missiles to arm its aircraft carriers and front-line warships against strike aircraft and anti-ship missiles. The Barak will be fitted on at least 14 Indian warships and the newly acquired Vikramaditya," said an official.

On the other hand the Obama administration will push for the stalled mega deals for M-777 ultra-light howitzers and Javelin anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) during US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to India.

There will be talks on ways to further bolster the already expansive strategic partnership, ranging from sharing of intelligence and cooperation on counter-terrorism to joint combat exercises, but the cornerstone will remain the US offer to provide India with "ground-breaking" weapon technology on par with its closest allies.

Having bagged defence deals worth over US $10 billion over the last decade, the US is obviously hungry for more. Of the different co-development and co-production offers, ranging from helicopters to UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), Washington is hard-selling the one for next-generation of Javelin ATGMs the most, said sources.

But no defence deal will actually be inked during the visit of Hagel, who is slated to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, NSA Ajit Doval and Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha on Friday.

Interestingly, Hagel is being accompanied by a top-level delegation which includes Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Puneet Talwar and under Secretary of Defence Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall.

While the US $2.5 billion deals for 22 Apache attack and 15 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters are virtually finalised now, India is not too interested in buying the second-hand MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) vehicles the US had deployed in Afghanistan and will not be taking them home after its pull-back from the war-ravaged country later this year.

What the US is really keen on is the Javelin ATGM, which is facing stiff competition from the Israeli 'Spike' tank-killing missile.

Under the over Rs 15,000 crore project to equip Indian Army's all 382 infantry battalions with such man-portable missiles, there will be an initial direct acquisition, followed by technology transfer to defence PSU Bharat Dynamics for large-scale indigenous manufacture.

Similarly, Washington is keen to resurrect the long-pending US $885 million deal for 145 ultra-light M-777 howitzers, which has hit a dead-end due to high costs and "non-compliant" offsets package.

The air-mobile howitzers were meant to equip the new XVII Mountain Strike Corps (90,000 troops) being raised by the army to gain "quick reaction force capabilities" against China.


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