Israel's Stunner emerges on India's radar

Bangalore, Feb. 6: Behind Israel's Iron Dome for India is a Stunner in the works.

Israel, India's furtive defence supplier that both countries keep shrouded behind layers of confidentiality, has outed itself in the Aero India 9th edition here.

A truck-mounted launcher from its Iron Dome missile system greets visitors at the entrance to the biannual event in the IAF's Yelahanka airbase that showcases the air combat inventory that India has on its wish list.

The Iron Dome, successfully demonstrated in last year's short sharp war between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip, is on that list. But somewhere below is its bigger brother named David's Sling. The Stunner is the rocket that the David's Sling system fires to shoot down enemy missiles with ranges 250km and above.

So important has Israel's presence been at this edition of Aero India that even defence minister A.K. Antony, known for his aversion to being publicly seen in the company of India's possibly most reliable military supplier as of now, allowed himself to be photographed with Major General Ehud Shani, the director general in Israel's ministry of defence.

Israel and India, said Israel's ambassador Alon Ushpiz at the opening of his country's pavilion here, share a "level of intimacy and co-operation" that is reflected and is an "integral part of the growing multifaceted relationship between our two countries".

"Without going into details, the friendship and chemistry between Israelis and Indians… is a source of pride and indeed a bedrock of security, stability and tranquillity for both our nations," he said.

The Iron Dome system that its maker Rafael claims shot down 85 per cent of Fajr5 and Qassam rockets on target from militants in the Gaza Strip was deployed across south Israeli settlements and to protect parts of Tel Aviv. It took three to five batteries of Iron Dome to protect Tel Aviv. Israel expects that the demonstration of the system will encourage India to buy it for its VVIP areas.

There is a difference, though, of size. Tel Aviv covers about 176sqkm with about 52sqkm estimated to have been targeted by the militants.

The National Capital Territory of Delhi, in comparison, is spread over 1,483sqkm.

Even the David's Sling, which Israel's Rafael is developing with the US-headquartered Raytheon and covers a larger area, has a single system for Israel as of now. A test in November 2012 is said to have been successful.

A Rafael official said a single David's Sling system would give cover for Israel, a country with contested boundaries but spanning approximately 16,000sqkm, less than even that of Kerala (about 18,650sqkm), one of India's smaller states in terms of acreage.

Israel has a four-layered missile defence system, graduating from the Iron Dome in the close-in area to the David's Sling and the Arrow II and the Arrow III for longer-range missiles.

India's Defence Research and Development Organisation claims that its own missile defence system is ready to be translated from the drawing board to a war theatre. India has also been in talks with the US and Russia for missile defence systems like the Patriot III and the SV-300 for long and medium ranges.

In early December, however, an Israeli delegation is understood to have held extensive talks with the Indian defence ministry. Indian officials expressed more keenness on the David's Sling than in the Iron Dome.

AFSPA caution

Antony today advised caution on demands for change to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which grants soldiers immunity from prosecution in areas covered by the law, to address alleged harassment of women by defence personnel.

"We have to be very careful and we cannot take any hasty decisions," the minister told a news conference after inaugurating Aero India 2013 here.

In the same breath, Antony promised such cases involving defence personnel would be handled strongly. "I have informed the armed forces that any such cases will have zero tolerance."

The Justice J.S. Verma Committee, many of whose recommendations were reflected in the February 3 ordinance on crimes against women, had suggested changes in the AFSPA.

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