An unusual, and very public, war of words has erupted between India’s DRDO and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, two sides that otherwise have a series of significant cooperative linkages in the missile space. With buzz in military and defence reporting circles over the peculiarly aggressive exchange, Livefist breaks down the story for you so you understand it in sequence. It started at noon on Thursday when a press statement from an Indian public relations firm dropped into the inboxes of defence correspondents (including Livefist’s) announcing that the Indian Army had just successfully practice-fired a pair of recently acquired Rafael Spike LR anti-tank missile. Here’s the press release in full:
Notably absent in the press release was any information on which company the statement was on behalf of. Appended to the end of the press release were the contact details of the public relations professional along with the name of the well-established PR firm. It is, however, plainly evident that the statement is a pitch for the Spike LR missile that the Indian Army recently acquired in small numbers. While the statement, strangely, makes no direct mention, the PR firm in question is known to represent the Kalyani Group, Rafael’s joint venture partner in India. And if that doesn’t make it clear enough, the statement actually ends with the line: ‘It is interesting to note that the OEM of the Spike missile, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems from Israel, has established a joint venture with the Kalyani Group in India. The JV is capable of manufacturing Spike missiles in India, and will also look at export opportunities from India.’
It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the press release is from or on behalf of the Rafael-Kalyani partnership. [UPDATE: Livefist can confirm now that the statement was initiated by Rafael, not the JV].
What wasn’t absent in the statement was a pair of paragraphs nobody quite expected to see — a seemingly direct swipe at the DRDO’s in-development anti-tank missile. It took the DRDO hours to react, but the operative part of the PR statement that alarmed the Indian missile team is likely to have been: ‘With the confidence in the Spike missile established, the Indian Army may need to revisit their plans for 3rd Gen missiles. Both the DRDO ATGM programme, as well as the invitation to Indian industry to develop a 3rd Gen missile will need a rethink, as having a 4th Gen missile will put the plan for development of a 3rd Gen missile questionable.’
The DRDO responded earlier today on Twitter:
The Indian Army began receiving small numbers of the Rafael Spike LR missile in October after a contract was signed on emergency provisions amidst escalating tensions with Pakistan in 2018. The missiles, currently being practice-fired at the Army’s Infantry School in central India, will be deployed with infantry units on the border with Pakistan. The contract was a fraction of what Rafael has been working to supply to India for years, the effort beset with ups and downs. it didn’t help that Rafael remained on the Indian MoD’s restricted list for a time, before being taken off in April last year. But Rafael’s misgivings specifically with the DRDO on the anti-tank missile acquisition program aren’t difficult to understand.
After field trials and evaluations of the Spike over years by Indian teams, things hit a wall in November 2017 when the Indian MoD ended speculation on a significant contract and decided not to pursue a large purchase (8000 missiles/300 launchers) of the Spike. The reason — the DRDO had stepped into the conversation and assured both the MoD and and (an unwilling) Army that the proposed homegrown MPATGM would fulfill the requirement. Then Defence Minister, the late Manohar Parrikar agreed, and pulled the plug on the Spike. Less than a year later, the DRDO conducted the first test-firing of its man-portable ATGM (ATGM) in September 2018.
The thinly veiled PR statement on the Spike yesterday has has sent ripples across the Army, considering that direct swipes of this kind, while common in closed-door meetings with acquisition planners, have never been known to happen so publicly. Interestingly, the DRDO has several significant partnership linkages with Israel’s military industrial complex, including with Rafael, the LRSAM/Barak-8 program being the single largest joint weapons project by the two sides.
Apart from the recently delivered Spike LR, Israel’s Rafael has several systems in active Indian military service, including the SpyDer SAM system with the Indian Air Force, the Spice 2000 precision guided bombs used by the Indian Air Force to target Pakistan’s Balakot earlier this year and the Derby and Python air-to-air missiles.
UPDATE: Rafael clarifies on the PR statement issued at its behest: