Air Defense: The Indian Detour

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July 20, 2018: The Israeli Barak 8 SAM (surface-to-air missile) system has been reorganized and expanded. There are now three Barak missiles, all variants of the Barak 8 that entered service in 2013 and was seen as a missile that could be easily reconfigured. The first customer for this was India, which wanted Barak 8 customized to operate from ships as well as land-based launchers. This collaboration was beset by many problems with Indian developers and manufacturers. Meanwhile, the Israeli manufacturer went ahead on their own and developed three versions of the Barak 8 missile. The Barak 8 was renamed Barak LRAD. A Barak 8 with a smaller rocket motor (and a range of 35 kilometers) was called Barak MRAD. Adding a booster rocket to the Barak 8 resulted in the Barak ER (with a range of 150 kilometers). All three versions retained the terminal radar guidance in the warhead.

But the major selling point is the new Barak configuration was the MX fire control system. This is a separate product customized to work with all three Barak missile types. Barak MX was designed to easily accept sensor (usually radar) data from numerous sources and then use threat assessment software to determine which Barak missile systems should be used against each target. This approach has long been used with the Iron Dome system, which ignores rockets or shells that are calculated to land in uninhabited areas and instead only fires missiles at incoming projectiles that threaten lives or valuable military or civilian structures.

Barak 8 was developed from the Barak 1 missile which entered service in the mid-1990s as a short-range defense against anti-ship missiles and aircraft. The Barak 1 missile weighed 98 kg (216 pounds) each, with a 21.8 kg (48 pound) warhead. The missiles are mounted in an eight-cell container. The radar system provides 360-degree coverage and the missiles can take down an incoming missile as close as 500 meters away from the ship. The missile has a range of ten kilometers and is also effective against aircraft.

The Barak 8 is a larger 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.

Meanwhile, India had run into problems changes for its naval version (LRSAM) and land version (MRSAM). Not surprisingly the LRSAM/MRSAM soon fell way behind schedule. This is the norm for Indian state-run defense firms. And there’s not much India can do about because Indian politicians and defense officials insist on Indians (mainly state-owned defense firms) doing the modifications. In this case, this minor bit of work would enable 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, know what is going on and want change.

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 a customized (for India) Barak 8 variant. India calls their naval version LRSAM (Long Range Surface to Air Missile) and the land version MRSAM. Both of these systems 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 $1.1 billion worth of LRSAM for their warships and even larger orders to replace older Russian SA-6 and SA-8 land-based systems. Since India has larger armed forces (and weapons needs), they will be the major user. The two countries evenly split the $350 million development cost. The Indian delay is because of problems developing features India wanted as well as setting up manufacturing facilities for the few Indian made components in LRSAM. While the Barak 8 was installed in Israeli ships in late 2013, Israel cannot just install Barak 8 in Indian warships until the two countries resolve some differences 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.

In 2010 Indian defense officials realized they had a major, and embarrassing, problem with LRSAM/MRSAM; 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 2016 another self-inflicted problem arose 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 involves 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 wants to say openly is 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. And the Israeli manufacturer went ahead with that as well as the three different versions of Barak 8 as well as the Barak MX fire control system. Meanwhile, India continues to order Barak 1 for its ships and slogs along on its customized (and now much delayed) Indian versions of Barak 8.

 


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