Israel's Rafael Advanced System's SPIKE Anti Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) 

While large-scale corruption and crony capitalism is not new to India’s defence sector, wilfully buying faulty missiles to keep an occupation and apartheid regime happy is surely a new chapter in the story. It is imperative that we question this missile deal, demanding accountability from the establishment and challenging the agreement

by PK Vasudeva

Israeli Spike Anti Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) is a missile with a tandem-charge HEAT warhead, currently in its fourth-generation. It was developed and designed by the Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defence Systems. (Note: The author had got the name of Israeli company completely wrong, since corrected by IDN)

It is available in man-portable, vehicle launched, and helicopter launched variants. Apart from engaging and destroying targets within the line-of-sight of the launcher (“fire-and-forget”), some variants of the missile are capable of making a top-attack profile, so called, through a “fire, observe and update” guidance method.

The operator tracks the target or switches over to another target, optically through the trailing fibre-optic wire while the missile is climbing to an altitude after launch. Spike ATGM can be operated from the launcher by infantry, or from mounts that can be fitted to vehicles such as fast attack vehicles, armoured personnel carriers or utility vehicles that are not normally fitted with antitank weapons and can, therefore, be given anti-tank capability.

The saga of the Spike ATGM deal between India and Israel refuses to die down easily despite its rejection by the Indian Army for its ineffectiveness in hot weather conditions. It has been reported that the Indian Army is procuring 240 Spike ATGM missiles and 12 launchers from the Israeli public sector defence firm, Rafael.

This comes after a series of cancellations and renegotiation by the army. Originally, an expert committee, constituted by the then Defence Minister, the late Manohar Parrikar, had found that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) capable of producing these missiles indigenously. It cancelled this $500 million deal in November 2017 following a report.

This was followed by a much-hyped trip by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January 2018 at the end of which he claimed that the deal was ‘back on the table’. In December 2018 the deal was cancelled again after having failed test-runs in high-temperature conditions. Predictably, Netanyahu was expected to travel again to India soon after, focusing on defence deals, but the trip did not materialise.

The initial consignment of 8,000 missile heads was later distributed between DRDO and Rafael’s local joint venture ~ Kalyani Rafael Advanced Systems. In April 2019, following the border skirmishes with Pakistan, the Indian Army approved an emergency purchase of 240 Spike MR missiles and 12 launchers to meet immediate operational requirements under the ’emergency procurement’ category.

The vice-chiefs of all three defence services have recently been provided with enhanced budgets, scaled up from Rs 100 crore to Rs 500 crore, under this category wherein procurement does not require prior approval from the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC). Defence experts are surprised to note that the Army has opted for this emergency procurement despite the fact that these missiles have failed in the desert conditions of Rajasthan and the Rann of Kutch.

Clearly, there is an element of pressure after Netanyahu’s visit last year, but it still does not explain the Army’s expenditure on these missiles. India’s defence relations with Israel, in force under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regimes, have gained an unprecedented push under the current dispensation.

India is the biggest buyer of Israeli arms, alone importing 50 per cent of Israel’s exports. Of late, Israeli companies have opened joint ventures for defence production in India, sowing the seeds of a full-scale military industrial complex. While private firms have provided ancillary services to public sector defence manufacturing units for a long time, the opening of joint venture firms in partnership with Israeli weapon companies is relatively new.

Within this framework, the Spike ATGM deal has been one of the high profiles agreements, with the initial amount placed at $ 500 million. This deal had also led to the establishment of Kalyani Rafael Advanced Systems in Hyderabad, to provide subsystems to Spike missiles, heralding a new trend in joint venture defence companies in partnership with Israel.

For the corruption- ridden Israeli defence sector, public relations is as important as actual sales. The revolving door between Israeli armed forces and defence manufacturers is a matter of public knowledge. Corruption related charges have been following a wide range of powerful figures, from the top brass of the armed forces to the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defence. India has already had a taste of this fundamental aspect of Israeli arms industry through the Barak missile scam under the previous NDA regime.

The growing solidarity movements for Palestine in the form of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel have raised the demand for a military embargo because of the latter’s gross human rights violations. It has also been demonstrated that Israel uses its maiming and killing strategy against Palestinians to sell its weapons as ‘battle tested’.

Due to growing pressures of the BDS movement, which has led to cancellation of contracts and divestment from Israeli defence companies, Israel is looking towards the south for expansion opportunities and legitimacy, and in this it has found allies in authoritarian regimes from Brazil to Philippines, via India. In fact, in India, this relationship has moved on to joint training and security cooperation

In small measure, this alliance is based on ideological affinities of Israel and the BJP government, both riding on their exclusivity ideologies. It is in this context that the Spike missile deal is being pushed forward, at the cost of indigenous arms manufacturing and, as evident now, at the cost of the quality of the missiles themselves. To quote defence experts, “even if the shortage of missiles and the emergency situation around them is understandable, this push does not make sense when the equipment is faulty and when the Indian missile is around the corner”.

Have we reached a point where India’s defence and security issues will be sacrificed at the altar of Israel’s PR? While large-scale corruption and crony capitalism is not new to India’s defence sector, wilfully buying faulty missiles to keep an occupation and apartheid regime happy is surely a new chapter in the story. It is imperative that we question this missile deal, demanding accountability from the establishment and challenging what is clearly a bad agreement.

However, we must link this demand to the demand for a military embargo on Israel, adding our voice to the global BDS movement for solidarity with the cause of Palestine. All defence deals with Israel further exacerbate the oppression of Palestinians. Solidarity groups from the global south have been demanding a military embargo on Israel to end its egregious violence against Palestinians and to resist local militarisation due to dealings with Israel. By challenging the Spike ATGM deal at various levels, India will be strengthening this struggle against Israel.