India ‘arm twisted’ to buy Spike, not Javelin missiles?

The flip-flop, cancelling the deal three weeks ago and putting it back on the table two weeks later reflects poorly on the Indian defence establishment

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Bhasha Singh

Defence industry circles are not surprised at the claim made by the visiting PM of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, that India has abandoned the global tender floated way back in 2010 for Anti Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) and has agreed to buy from Israel the ‘Spike’ missile.

Barely two weeks before Israel’s PM landed in India, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems of Israel had announced that it had received a communication from the Indian defence ministry about the cancellation of the Spike Missile deal.

But on the third day of his visit, Netanyahu was quoted by Jerusalem Post as saying, “Following talks I have held with my friend, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian government has informed us that it is putting the Spike deal back on track. This is very important and there will be many more deals.”

Another report quoted him saying, “Summing up the third day of his visit to India today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he discussed the deal for Spike missiles produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and that the deal would be revived. Before his trip, there was concern that the deal would be called off. An announcement made by Netanyahu stated, "We're back to moving ahead with the Spike deal, and things will be discussed in the process. The directions are very positive; there is another process. Before we came, it had been taken off the table, and in the current visit, we put it back on the table."

Indian industry circles are not surprised because Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already set a precedent by abandoning the deal to buy Rafael fighter jets from France and opting for a government-to-government purchase off-the-shelf for a smaller number and without any technology transfer on the ground of ‘operational necessity”.

The tender cancelled by the defence ministry three weeks ago was for 321 ATGM launchers and 8,356 missiles worth Rs 3,200 Crore. In addition, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems was required to transfer technology to Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL).

Army chief General Rawat had confirmed that the tender had been cancelled and it had been decided to get the ATGM missiles developed indigenously by the DRDO. But since DRDO was not in a position to supply the missiles before 2021-22, General Rawat had voiced his concern was how to bridge the gap till then.

But by opting for ‘Spike’ missiles from Israel, India has abandoned the choice of buying better and next generation missiles from the US and France. Defence industry sources say that the US ‘Javelin’ ATGM built by Lockheed Martin has a range of 4000 meters while Spike has a range of only 2500 meters.

Both the American and the French missile are said be more versatile ‘fire and forget’ missiles which zero in on targets more accurately and faster while giving time to the infantry to scoot to safety.

Significantly, the Modi Government had finalised the deal in 2014 and the pricing had also been finalised in 2016 when Manohar Parrikar was the defence minister. Unsatisfactory performance during field tests is said to have prompted defence experts to suggest that India should build the missiles on its own.

Brigadier (Rtd) Gurmeet Kanwal told NH that India being one of the major buyers of defence equipment from Israel, India cannot go against Israel’s interests.

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