INDIA HAS scrapped a $500-million deal with Israel for the purchase of Spike anti-tank missiles from defence contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems after indigenous developer Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) claimed that it could deliver an alternative within two years.
Government officials associated with the approval of the deal said Israel has been informed about the contract being abandoned in favour of DRDO, which claimed that it was developing a similar missile at a lower price in partnership with VEM Technologies Ltd.
Officials said domestic production of the missile was favoured as DRDO’s effort in creating a man-portable anti-tank guided missile (MPATGM) was “progressing fast” with the second stage of testing concluded. The DRDO claimed it successfully test-fired the MPATGM at the Ahmednagar range last September.
Although Army officials were sceptical of DRDO’s claim on meeting its promised deadline and operational requirements, the Defence Ministry opted for DRDO as it would fulfil the government’s “Make-in-India” initiative. The ministry, said officials, now prefers a home-grown anti-tank missile rather than depend on time-consuming imports.
Officials said India last year delayed the purchase of Spike missiles from Rafael for fear of being dragged into another controversy at a time when the purchase of the French fighter jet Rafale was being disputed by the main Opposition Congress party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
At the time, the reason given was that the Spike missiles needed to undergo additional tests to prove its infrared system in the country’s high-temperature environment. The Army was said to be sceptical of the missile’s performance in the hot western deserts adjoining Pakistan.
However, the DRDO offered to deliver thousands of indigenous MPATGM by 2021, almost the time it would take Rafael to deliver its Strike missiles, said officials.
India’s deal with Israel for 321 Spike launchers and 8,356 missiles was initially struck in October 2014 after the Defence Ministry selected Spike over the US-made FGM-148 Javelin. But it was scrapped in December 2017 in favour of DRDO.
It was “reauthorized” in January 2018 following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India and Rafael opened a production facility in India last August with local partner Kalyani Group.