With plenty of Israeli armament already in service with the Indian armed forces, word just in on the next piece of kit in the pipeline. Called ‘Maoz’ in Israeli Defence Force service, the SPIKE FIREFLY loitering munition will likely soon be contracted by the Indian government as part of special financial powers in the current atmosphere of tension with China and Pakistan.
The Firefly is basically a helicopter ‘suicide drone’ with two coaxial rotors, carrying a sensor payload and a warhead. Controlled from tablet-based console, the fully human-portable system can be quickly deployed in close infantry combat situations where visibility stands compromised. While the IDF procured the Firefly most recently in May for urban warfare profiles, the Indian Army is looking to obtain the capability for regular infantry in border areas as well as counter-insurgency units. The Firefly has a stated operating range of 500 meters in an urban setting and a kilometer in the open.
While imports have only ever needed token justification despite a declared emphasis self-reliance and ‘Make in India’, loitering munitions likely get a free pass anyway since the DRDO and Indian private sector aren’t (yet) known to be developing systems of this kind. Whether numbers would compel local assembly remains to be seen, though that could easily be supported by the partnerships Israeli firms have in India, including the Firefly’s maker Rafael with India’s Kalyani Defence.
According to official Rafael literature, the Firefly ‘eliminates the value of cover and with it, the necessity of long-drawn firefights; it will make obsolete the old infantry tactic firing and maneouvering to eliminate an enemy hiding behind cover‘.
If contracted, the Firefly would be the third Israeli loitering munition in Indian service after the IAI Harpy and Harop. The Indian Air Force began acquiring Harop kamikaze drones in 2009, with a top-up cleared by the Indian MoD last year. Current tensions with China, and the PLA’s deployment of air defence elements near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has compelled the Indian forces to speed up procurement of more Harops.
The Firefly would also effectively be the Indian Army’s first loitering weapon. A decade ago in 2010, the Army briefly scouted the world market for medium-range loitering munition, with MBDA’s Fire Shadow being considered. That contest was abandoned before it even took off.
To be sure, Israel has hawked its lengthy catalogue of loitering munitions to India for years, including the Rotem-L seen above in a picture from AeroIndia 2017, the Hero-30 and the Elbit SkyStriker. The latter three could also be procured in small numbers if the Israeli push translates into sales.
Interest in the Firefly is part of a flurry of Indian armament deals Israel is likely to land at this time. The Indian Air Force will soon contract for more Spice 2000 precision guided munitions, while there’s been buzz over more air defence systems coming India’s way specifically for the Ladakh theatre.