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India, Israel tie up on next-gen Barak missiles

SHIV AROOR

Posted: Feb 07, 2006 at 0407 hrs IST

In an indisputable sign that Indo-Israeli defence ties have matured, the governments of both countries have signed their first-ever joint weapons development contract to design and produce the Barak-II next-generation air defence missiles for warships.

After 17 months of complex inter-government negotiations, the deal was concluded on January 27 but kept under wraps for ‘‘political reasons’’, sources said. The Barak-II will be jointly developed by the Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI), the Barak programme’s secondary integrator Rafael and by the Hyderabad-based Defence Research & Development Laboratories (DRDL), with the two countries splitting the approximately $330 million kick-start investment.

DRDO sources told Express, ‘‘It will be based on the original Barak, but we will work together for longer range, a more refined seeker, a long-range target-tracking system, better downlinking capabilities and possibly a new propulsion system and payload capacity.’’ In a phased manner, the Barak-I and the Barak-II missiles will replace the ageing Russian OSA-M and Volna RZ-31 missiles still in operation on most Indian warships. Navy sources pointed to the inherent advantage of the Barak family’s digital systems over the analog computers that guide the Russian missiles.

The Navy has expressed its satisfaction with the Barak-I’s performance and has given its full support for the next variant. Israeli efficiency is also a factor as compared to the traditional delays of dealing with the Russians. The joint-development offer was first made by Israel when Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash visited Tel Aviv in July 2004.

After a meeting of the Joint Working Group on December 24 that year, the Navy was asked to present its case, which culminated in the Cabinet clearing the agreement earlier this year. Nine Indian warships, including INS Viraat and the three Delhi-class destroyers, already have the 10-km range Barak-I system purchased in 2003. The government also cleared the purchase of seven more Barak-I systems two months ago.

The new variant, to be developed over three years, will be built for a targeting range of at least 50 km. Barak systems are configured to defend warships by automatically intercepting incoming sea-skimming missiles, aircraft and UAVs using a digital radar.

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