Strong growth for Israel in Asia
Byline: ARIE EGOZI / Tel Aviv
In recent years the presence of Asian visitors in the facilities of major Israeli defence industries has become almost a daily occurrence. But without any doubt, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is the main beneficiary from the appetite of some Asian countries for very advanced weapon systems. In some cases the development of systems is being partially funded by these customers.
One of the many examples is the effort to develop an unmanned helicopter for the Indian Navy. IAI and Hindustan aeronautics limited (HAL) have been performing preliminary work on a prototype of an unmanned helicopter based on the locally made Chetak helicopter. The Chetak is the upgraded version of the Chetan, a French platform that was made under license in India. The flight control system for the Indian navy’s program was developed by IAI using a Bell-206. However, at this point is seems that until IAI gets a contract it will not go alone into the investment needed to develop an operational product.
The Israeli Navy also has an interest in an unmanned helicopter for its missile boats. At this stage the navy uses manned helicopters but their operation is complicated in rough see conditions. In the late 80’s, IAI used a Gyrodyne QH-50 , as the basis for the Hellstar hovering UAS. The program was terminated after the first prototype was damaged in a hard landing.
The operational requirements of the Israeli Navy and others have encouraged IAI to resume its work on a very advanced vertical takeoff Uninhabited Aerial System (UAS). The company is now working on a dedicated unmanned rotorcraft and on a kit that will allow “Plug and Fly” conversion of any helicopter. Sources say that the initial cooperation with HAL has been changed and that continues “in other directions”.
Immediately after IAI delivered the three Russian made IL-76 aircraft that were converted to serve as airborne early warning (AEW) platforms for the Indian Air Force negotiations began on a follow on deal. India prefers that the additional AEW systems will be carried by IL-76 transport aircraft like the three supplied by IAI last year – probably for commonality considerations. The additional systems – if purchased – will be an advanced version and will include a series of software and hardware improvements like the ones incorporated in the third IL-76. New Delhi has requested the additional capabilities after receiving the first two IL-76s equipped with the Israeli systems. The Indian IL-76 AEW aircraft were designed to enable users to get an enhanced picture by integrating offboard sensors carried by manned and unmanned platforms.
IAI has identified the huge potential of the Indian market and has established the joint venture company Nova. It was formed in 2009 by IAI and Tata Advanced Systems (TASL) for the development, manufacturing, marketing and support of defence products in India. According to the agreement, Nova focuses its efforts on UAS, missiles, radars and electronic warfare (EW) systems. TASL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Industries focused on providing integrated solutions for Defence and Aerospace.
Since Nova was formed, it is working in two facilities in Mumbai and Hyderabad. Recently a decision was made to expand the operations to enable the company to bid more easily for new tenders to be issued by the Indian Ministry of Defense. One of these is for mini-UAS products.
The sales potential for Israeli Aerospace Industries in India is described by defence sources as “huge”.
The Indian Navy has already become the client for one very advanced defensive system that is being developed by IAI. India has invested in the development of that advanced missile, dubbed Barak-8. This missile will protect the navy’s ships from different threats and is part of a vast net centric “super system” that will collect real time intelligence – enabling the navy to perform better against land and sea targets.
As part of that plan, the Indian Navy has a requirement for additional types of UAS made by IAI. Sources say that the Indians have already evaluated some additional systems. These may include improved Heron and even the Heron-TP UAS medium altitude long endurance (MALE) with dedicated maritime payloads. The two currently operational UAS squadrons have resulted in an increasing demand for these products in the Indian Navy’s different sections and in recent months there are indications that some new contracts are planned with IAI.
The Indian Ministry of Defence has accelerated the purchase of two types of UAS under an urgent acquisition requirement for operation by the Indian army northern command along the India- Pakistan border. The initial order will be for 20 systems from each type. All the Israeli UAS manufacturers are offering their systems – though IAI has a well-established footprint.
Recently India has issued an RFI for the acquisition of nine turbofan aircraft capable of performing a range of roles including signals intelligence (SIGINT). Two of those purchased will be dedicated SIGINT platforms. The other seven will have equipment that will enable among other missions, including communications jamming (COMJAM). The RFI specifies the SIGINT as needing a very advanced level of capability.
Israeli sources say that one very real candidate for this competition is the IAI G-550 business jet that was converted from a luxury business aircraft to an AEW and Sigint systems. This platform is currently operated by the Israeli Air Force and also the Air Force of Singapore. In a rare move, Singapore has been open about that deal with IAI. Other deals remain under wraps.
Foreign sources claim that Singapore is operating the IAI Searcher-2 UAS in Afghanistan. These sources claim that the Israeli-made UAS are being operated by a 52 man operations team.A Searcher- 2 system comprises of 4 air platforms , a ground control station, a launch/recovery system, a ground data terminal, and a remote video terminal.
According to IAI the Searcher-2 has a range of 300 km, and an endurance of 20 hours with max altitude of 18.000 feet.
The accelerated activities of Israeli defence companies in India have resulted in some very negative developments. Earlier this year, the Indian Ministry of Defence decided to include Israel Military Industries (IMI) in a black list that included six companies allegedly involved in a bribery scandal in 2009. The blacklisted companies are banned from doing business in the country for ten years.
India froze deals with the companies in 2009 after arresting a senior Indian Defence Ministry official for allegedly accepting bribes from the firms. New Delhi made the decision to blacklist the companies after the firms were given the opportunity to respond to the bribery accusations brought against them. IMI says that it negotiates with the Indian government in order to change the decision.
According to well informed Israeli sources, India is one of the largest export markets for the defence and aerospace sector – with at least US$ 2 billion worth of deals under negotiations at this time.
Elbit, Israel’s largest public defence company, has also been very active in Asia. In 2010 they were awarded a US$ 298 million for the supply, integration, installation and support of a Battle Group and Below Command, Control and Communications (BGC3) system for the Australian Army’s Land 75/125 program. The BGC3 comprises a Battle Management System (BMS) for soldiers, Vehicle Mounted Commanders and Headquarters/Command Post Staff.
This project,will enable the Australian Army to achieve a major portion of its defence network centric warfare milestone of a networked brigade with cutting edge technology in battle management and communications systems.
Last year was also successful for Elbit in other countries in Asia. The company was awarded contracts by several customers in Asia to supply “many dozens” of observation systems for maritime patrol aircraft, vessels and observation towers. The total value of these new contracts is approximately $20 million, to be supplied over three years.
With about 25-30 % of its sales in Asia, Elbit systems last year won another contract valued at US$ 32.7 million to supply an undisclosed regional army with advanced training systems for its armored and infantry forces. The project will be performed over the next three years. The project comprises driving simulators for various armored vehicles (tracked and wheeled), and an advanced gunnery and tactical simulator.
The flexibility of this solution allows training from the individual soldier’s level to tactical teams and even higher hierarchies. The trainees also can configure the training session to match any combat scenario. To maximize its cost effectiveness, the system is designed to reuse as much of the components as possible by applying a “roll in roll out” concept to both the gunnery as well as the driving simulators. The users are therefore able to reconfigure the systems with any combination of turrets they desire. Additional unique capabilities include a smart scenario generator and large training areas at extremely high resolution for both open and urban terrains.
By any standard, last year was very successful for Elbit in the Asian market. It was awarded another US$ 20 million contract to supply an Asian country with dozens of CoMPASS (Compact Multi Purpose Advanced Stabilized System) payloads for maritime patrol aircraft. The Asian country, which operates one of the largest maritime patrol fleets in the world, has selected CoMPASS as a long-term solution to protect its coastlines. The CoMPASS payload is already installed onboard hundreds of platforms including Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).
South Korea was considered until earlier this yea, as a very promising market for the Israeli defence industries, But also earlier this year, as expected, the Israeli ministry of defence selected the Italian Aermacchi M-346 as the new advanced trainer of the Israeli Air Force.
The selection ended a long competition between the M-346 and the South Korean KAI T-50 .
The governments of Italy and South Korea respectively put on a lot of pressure to win the contract. This is because a selection by the IAF can be used as a good reference source with other potential customers.
The Italians have committed themselves to purchasing a “number” of Israeli systems including AEW aircraft from Israel Aerospace Industries. Sources said that Italy made a written commitment to back up their offer. On the other hand, South Korea said that it intends to purchase different Israeli systems – but was not ready to sign an official commitment .
The Israeli Ministry of Defence did not issue a formal Request For Proposal and that apparently caused great anger in South Korea. The loss of the jet trainer contract has changed the atmosphere between Israel and South Korea. Is that only a temporary situation? Time will tell.
Before the South Koreans lost the contract they were considering a wide-ranging cooperation with Israeli aerospace and defence industries. The issues that were “on the table” until the trainer decision was made included multi mission aircraft that are capable of air refueling, Elint and Comint systems on medium sized platforms like those manufactured by Bombardier and “different types” of missiles.
So far South Korea has purchased around US$ 400 million of Israeli defence systems. These included the IAI Green Pine long range radar and different systems made by IAI for the T-50 aircraft, including its radar.
The South Korean army has been evaluating some UAS made in Israel. Sources in Israel say that the tension will decrease in due course and that they expect big contracts with Seoul. One system that is very interesting for the South Korean armed forces is the Rafael “Iron Dome” rocket interceptor, that was developed in record time and has been achieving an 80% intercept of rockets launched from Gaza into Israel.
Last year there were signs that the Royal Thai Air Force may become a client for Israeli made UAS. This occurred when the airforce’s experts began evaluating two Israel systems.
One is the G- Star UAS based on the Innocon’s MiniFalcon-2 . The G-Star has a twin boom fuselage and has an enhanced takeoff weight compared with the MiniFalcon-2 ( 220 KG MAXTOW compared to 200 kg). The Royal Thai airforce purchased a G-Star system and is evaluating it against other UAS believed to be the Aeronautics Aerostar.
The G-Star is the first result of the cooperation agreement between Innocon from and Thai company G-Force . G-Force has so far specialized in manufacturing composite structures and supplied some for UAS developed by Innocon. According to the agreement, G-Force is the Israeli company’s regional representative.
In all aspects Asia is one of the most important markets for the Israeli defence industry. The contracts signed in this region are not always in the open, manily for reasons that are important to the purchasing countries.
All signs show that this market will keep its importance in the next few years and some predict that it will even become bigger.
Defence Review Asia can only speculate that systems like the Rafael Trophy active protection system for tanks the company’s Spike missiles and smart munitions like the IAI’s TopGun kit that convets any 155 mm artillery shell to a precise weapon will be included in that long list.