And that is a really big deal, for many reasons

by Zachary Keck

The news was reported by both Indian and Israeli media outlets. “India is on the verge of finalising a $500 million deal with Israel for the government-to-government purchase of around 4,500 Spike anti-tank guided missiles,” The Hindustan Times reported on June 26, citing India and Israel officials.

The deal could be finalized as early as Israel defense official Udi Adam's trip to New Delhi on July 2-3. 

The deal has been a long time in the making, but appeared unlikely to take place as late as the early this year.

The Israeli defence firm Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd. first agreed to sell 8,000 Spike anti-tank missiles to India in 2014. Under the original deal, 3,000 of the missiles would be manufactured in India as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative.

But it was scuttled late last year, although different reasons have been given for the cancellation.

Some reports said India decided to torpedo the deal when India’s premier defense technology agency, the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), told Delhi that it could build a similar capability itself.

Other Indian media reports suggest Israel was to blame because it grew uncomfortable with the technology transfer parts of the agreement.

Meanwhile, Israeli outlets have suggested that the deal was cancelled because “an Indian weapons manufacturer developing a local anti-tank missile objected to the inclusion of the tech transfer clause.” Other Indian news reports backed up this assertion. The DRDO explanation makes the most sense because Delhi is purchasing a smaller number of Spike missiles to serve as stop-gap measure until it can make indigenous ones.

The Spike missile, which Israel first called the Tamuz missile, has a long and storied history for the Jewish state. Jerusalem first began trying to develop a better anti-tank capability following the near disaster of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

As Charlie Gao has noted for The National Interest , the Spike Non-Line-of-Sight (Spike-NLOS) was the first surface-to-surface missile to use TV guidance.

“To achieve this, the Spike-NLOS has a tiny fiber-optic cable linking the launching vehicle with the missile, as well as a camera in the missile itself,” Gao wrote.

“Through this datalink, the Spike-NLOS operator sees a view of the battlefield . The operator then proceeds to guide the missile to the target.”

The Spike missile adds good range to its precision attack. The most advanced versions can hit targets up to 30 kilometers away. And, as Gao notes, “the TV guidance allows the missile to retarget in flight, as the operator only needs to steer to a different target. It also doesn’t require a ‘lock’ to launch, the operator only needs to know the rough coordinates of the target, allowing Spike-NLOS to act as precision artillery.”

The most recent versions also boast a true homing capability, and it can be tied into Israel’s command-and-control centres so that it can use targeting data acquired from other sources such as radar and reconnaissance drones.

Jerusalem has also developed numerous different variants of the missile for different purposes.

Israel has used the Spike missile to great success, especially in the Second Lebanon War and intifadas. In these instances, Israel sometimes used its extreme precision to take out targets in crowded, urban battles, although it was also used to take out artillery.

Jerusalem has had a lot of success exporting the missile even before the India deal. Among the operators of the missile include the United Kingdom, South Korea, Spain, Singapore, Italy, Germany, and Finland, among many, many others. South Korea uses the missiles to target the massive artillery pieces North Korea maintains just across the border.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has used the systems in places like Iraq and Afghanistan in similar ways that Israel did in Palestine and Lebanon.

The Indian deal for the Spike missiles continues a trend of growing defence ties between Jerusalem and Delhi.

Last year Israel saw its military exports rise a staggering 41 percent compared with 2016. Of Israel’s $9.2 billion in arms sales in 2017, fifty-eight percent went to the Asia-Pacific.

India overwhelming led the way with Israel selling it $1.6 billion worth of Barak 8 air defense systems. Besides the missiles and launchers, the Barak 8 deal included command, control and radar systems, along with communications devices, according to a report in Haaretz.

Meanwhile, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) continues to develop the third-generation Nag anti-tank guided missile. After a test in late February of this year, the agency said, “with this, the developmental trials of the missile have been completed and it is now ready for induction.”

This wasn’t the first time DRDO claimed to reach this milestone, and the fact that Delhi is going ahead with the Spike missile deal suggests Indian’s armed services do not believe it is operational.

Ultimately, India hopes to procure 8,000 of the Nag missiles.