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Red Herring November 11, 2005

Israel Sells Drones to India

Discouraged from selling weapons to China, Israel looks elsewhere for customers.

 

When Israel sold weapons to China last spring, it earned a sharp rebuke from the United States. But when Israel Aircraft Industries announced this week it was selling India 50 aerial drones for $220 million, Washington didn’t blink.

The United States kicked Israel out of the joint strike fighter development program when it sold anti-radar drones to China in the spring. It didn’t take long for Israel to kill the deal with Beijing, and regain entrance into the fighter jet development plan. Still, Washington’s message was clear.

Fortunately for Israel, the United States doesn’t mind if the country hawks its wares to India, another rapidly modernizing military in Asia. According to Stratfor, an international affairs consulting firm, India said it would use its new drones to patrol the disputed region of Kashmir, along the border with Pakistan, as well as the Himalayan border with China.

Not only does the arrangement for 50 Heron UAVs underscore Israel’s interest in reaching out to Asian markets, it reflects India’s commitment to move away from Soviet-era and homegrown weaponry. “India has gone from a preference to build, to a preference for buying. They have diversified their supplier base,” said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org.

UAVs will represent a large share of military spending in coming years. Frost and Sullivan estimates that the global military market for UAVs over the next decade will be $45 billion.

India has a growing pile of money to spend on its war machine. In February, the Indian Finance Minister announced an 8 percent increase in the defense budget, bringing the total to $19 billion. News like this troubles Pakistan, India’s neighbor, and frequent foe in border skirmishes.

The 50 drones will not please Islamabad either. Stratfor puts it this way: “Despite the negative resonance this deal will have in Islamabad, the Herons will strengthen New Delhi's ability to deny access to jihadists crossing into India from Pakistan by enhancing India's border surveillance capabilities.”

Natural Partners

It’s no wonder the United States doesn’t have a problem with this deal. The conflict between Muslim extremists and their neighbors also explains why Israel and India are natural trading partners, said Andrew Teekell, military analyst for Stratfor.

While it lacks the range and altitude of U.S.-built UAVs such as General Atomics’ Predator or Northrop Grumman’s Hunter, IAI’s Heron is regarded as a highly capable drone. It’s flown by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines.

The Heron can operate for 40 hours at 30,000 feet. Brad Curran, a defense industry analyst at Frost and Sullivan, said the Heron is known for its sophisticated array of sensors and avionics. For example, if the drone loses contact with its controller, it flies itself back to its base automatically. 

Mr. Teekell said he expects to see more weapons deals between India and Israel in the near future, including one for the Israeli version of the Airborne Warning and Control System. Known as the Phalcon, Israel had tried to sell it to the Chinese, until the U.S. quashed the deal.


Copyright 2005, Red Herring, Inc.