India is close to finalizing another mega military project with Israel, which will further bolster the already expansive but secretive defence cooperation under way between the two countries since the 1999 Kargil conflict. Defence ministry sources said the contract negotiation committee had now virtually sealed the joint development of a medium-range surface-to-air missile system (MR-SAM) for the Indian Army through collaboration between DRDO and Israeli Aerospace Industries. Defence PSU Bharat Dynamics, in turn, will undertake bulk production of the systems in India. Incidentally, Israel is among the top defence suppliers to India, having already inked deals and projects worth around $10 billion over the last 15 years, which range from spy and armed drones to sophisticated missile and radar systems. During his visit to India in February, Israeli defence minister Mr. Moshe Ya’alon had even offered the advanced Iron Dome interceptor, which was used to intercept the flurry of rockets fired into his country last year, for PM Mr. Narendra Modi’s Make in India policy. As for the initial Army order for one regiment of the MR-SAM systems, with their multi-function surveillance and threat tracking radars as well as weapon control systems, it would cost over Rs 9,000 crore. “More orders might later follow since the Army’s air defence capabilities are relatively weak,” said a source. The DRDO-IAI-BDL model is identical to the SAM projects already under way for the Navy and IAF, which are together worth around Rs 13,000 crore. While the interception range of IAF-Navy versions is 70-km, the one for the Army will be 50-km. Such SAM systems are basically “area defence weapons” that locate, track and destroy incoming hostile aircraft, drones, missiles and helicopters. They are the advanced versions of the Israeli Barak-I “point anti-missile defence systems” with a 9-km range, which were fitted on 14 Indian warships several years ago. The new SAM projects, however, have been plagued by huge delays. The one to arm Indian warships at a cost of Rs 2,606 crore, which was approved in December 2005, was to be completed by May 2011. But it’s only now that an Indian warship — the 6,800-tonne destroyer INS Kolkata commissioned by Mr. Modi in August last year — is gearing up for the actual test-firing of the SAM system for the first time. After its HOT (home on target) tests were completed in Israel last year, the SAM has also been fitted in another destroyer INS Kochi, which will be commissioned later this year. The story has been similar for the Rs 10,076 crore SAM project sanctioned in February 2009 for IAF to plug the existing gaps in air defence coverage of the country. The project completion date has been pushed back to August 2016. It was this long delay, in fact, which had led India to put negotiations for the Army version on the backburner till now.
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