Air Defense: Little Things Mean A Lot Of Delays

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April 16, 2017: On April 6 India finally signed a deal to buy $2 billion worth of air defense systems from Israeli firms. The purchase is mainly about customized (for India) Israeli Barak 8 SAM (surface-to-air missile) systems. India wanted a modified naval version (LRSAM) and land version (MRSAM) of the Barak 8. Although this project has been in the works since 2006 it encountered problems, mainly on the Indian side, that held up completing the work, and getting everyone to sign off on the contracts..

Since 2015 India has made extraordinary efforts to get the Indian developed features of the Israeli Barak 8 SAM working. Progress on that was disappointing until 2016. What was embarrassing about all this was that Barak 8 entered Israeli service in 2013. While the Israelis got the missile into service ahead of schedule the Indian version was hobbled by poor management. Indian officials kept insisting on additional changes for both its naval version (LRSAM) and land version (MRSAM) of the Indian Barak 8. As experienced Indian naval officers warned, these simple requests (actually demands) caused a lot of problems. Not surprisingly the LRSAM/MRSAM soon fell way behind schedule but three years after the Israeli version entered service India caught up. Several tests since June 2016 have been successful and the LRSAM/MRSAM Barak 8 did indeed get accepted for Indian service by early 2017. All that remained was for senior Indian officials to sign the purchase agreement.

Endless delays have long been the norm for Indian military procurement and state run defense firms. It was always believed that there was not much anyone could do about a situation like this because Indian politicians and defense officials insisted that Indian (mainly state owned defense firms) do the Barak 8 modifications. The Israelis could have done it more quickly and inexpensively but having Indian involvement has become popular with Indian voters and the Israelis can appreciate how difficult that can be to deal with.

With Barak 8 these minor modifications enabled Indian politicians to claim LRSAM and MRSAM are Indian developed and made. The Israelis go along with this because India is a big customer. A growing number of Indians, especially those in the military who are put at risk by all this political posturing, know what is going on and want change. Israeli firms involved have long struggled to find an effective, and diplomatic, solutions. This has involved a lot of meetings in Israel and India between engineers and managers from both countries. It’s been a big help that this issue has gotten a lot more Indian media attention in the last few years. The Indian media has also made it clear that the Barak 8 delays are not unique and show up so often that a growing number of foreign suppliers will not even bid on Indian projects. Something had to change and slowly that is happening for several projects.

This is all about the persistent Indian problems with managing the development of military technology. The Barak 8 fiasco began in 2006 when India and Israel agreed to jointly develop and manufacture Barak 8. India called their naval version LRSAM (Long Range Surface to Air Missile) and the land version MRSAM. Israel designed Barak 8 as a naval system. Both LRSAM and MRSAM will replace older Russian weapons as well as Russian offers of new Russian made replacements.

While most (70 percent) of the Barak 8 development work was done in Israel, India is the major customer because it is buying billions of dollars’ worth of LRSAM for their warships and to replace older Russian SA-6 and SA-8 land based systems. Since India has larger armed forces (and weapons needs) than Israel they will be the major user. The two countries evenly split the $350 million development cost.

The Indian delays are the result of several problems. In addition to finding Indian engineers to implement features India wanted there were different problems setting up manufacturing facilities for the few Indian made components. There were also disagreements over the transfer of some Israeli technology to India. This has also been a problem with other Western nations and the Indian government has not been willing to change Indian laws and patent protections to avoid these problems. The tech transfer problem was eventually worked out but many foreign firms are fed up with inflexible Indian attitudes when it comes to tech transfer.

The problems with Barak 8 were not really a surprise to anyone involved. As early as 2010 Indian defense officials realized they had a major, and embarrassing, problem because they did not have enough engineers in the government procurement bureaucracy to quickly and accurately transfer the Israeli technical data to the Indian manufacturers. In addition, some of the Indian firms that were to manufacture Barak 8 components either misrepresented their capabilities or did not know until it was too late that they did not have the personnel or equipment to handle the job. In early 2016 another self-inflicted problem arose when two state owned defense manufacturing firms got into a dispute with each other and the government over which of them would be in charge of managing the Indian work on LRSAM/MRSAM. This dispute also involved efforts by state owned defense firms to get more political support for increasing pressure on Israel to give ground on exporting defense tech to India.

What no one wanted to say openly was that the corruption in India, especially in defense matters, is epic and most Western states do not trust the Indians unless there are strong (and embarrassing to Indian officials) legal guarantees about the security of exported tech.

Meanwhile Israel has already manufactured and installed Barak 8 on its three 1,075 ton Saar 5 class corvettes. Thus Barak 8 was ready for action over a year before its scheduled 2015 service date. Israel is believed to have rushed this installation because Russia has sent high speed Yakhont anti-ship missiles to Syria and Barak 8 was designed to deal with this kind of threat. Barak 8 is also Israel’s first air defense system equal to the American Patriot (and similar systems like the U.S. Navy SM-2, Russian S-300, and European Aster 15). An improved Barak 8 would be able to shoot down short range ballistic missiles.

The Barak 8 is a 275 kg (605 pound) missile with a 60 kg (132 pound) warhead and a range of 70 kilometers. The warhead has its own seeker that can find the target despite most countermeasures. The missiles are mounted in a three ton, eight cell container (which requires little maintenance), and are launched straight up. The compact (for easy installation on a ship) fire control module weighs under two tons.

 

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