The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ahead: Barak & robo-copter

New Delhi, August 21: Israel’s defence minister Ehud Barak is expected in New Delhi at the end of the month on a visit that is out of turn. He will head a delegation that will propose a joint venture with India to co-develop unmanned helicopter gunships, or robocopters, a senior official in the defence ministry told The Telegraph today.

Barak, who shares a surname (lightning in Hebrew) with the ship-borne anti-missile system that the Indian Navy has acquired from Israel, is also a former Prime Minister (1999-2001). He is one of the most powerful politicians in his country and is often ranked next to the Prime Minister. He would be visiting New Delhi even though it was defence minister A.K. Antony’s turn for a trip to Tel Aviv.

Antony’s visit was originally slated for September. But he rescheduled it in deference to the wishes of the Left even before the current uproar over the Ind0-US civilian nuclear deal.

The Left has pointed to India’s stated foreign policy in support of Palestine and it also frowns on military ties with Israel. Israel’s defence industry is closely intertwined with the US military complex.

The outgoing Israel Navy chief who visited India earlier this month first brought up the idea of the unmanned helicopter in his talks with defence ministry officials. Major General David Ben Bashaat’s visit was at first passed off as innocuous because it was known that he was quitting following criticism of the Israel Navy in the war against the Hizbollah in July last year.

It now transpires that the navy chief had laid the foundation for the project that the delegation led by Barak will build on. The proposal follows quickly on the heels of a $2.5billion surface-to-air missile joint venture project that was approved by the cabinet committee on security chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July.

The Indian armed forces have already inducted pilot-less aircraft — also called drones — from Israel. The Indian Navy, Air Force and Army use the Heron, Searcher Mark I and Searcher Mark II unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) mostly for surveillance. Two drones are currently being used in tracking militants in the Naxalite-influenced districts of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

The robocopter would be a platform that would not only spy but also be armed for combat. Robot helicopter gunships are known to be researched in both the US and by Israel Aerospace Industry, the Israeli company whose chief executive is likely to be in the delegation led by Barak.

The best-known robocopter is called “Fire Scout” in the US and was inducted into its army only last year. The cockpit, that would normally seat the crew, has been configured to accommodate the robot-control and sensors.

What shape a possible India-Israel co-development programme would take is yet to be determined. Last week, the government approved a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) co-development programme for airborne radars with Israel. Two DRDO entities, the Aeronautical Development Establishment and the Aeronautical Development Agency, are involved in researching other projects with Israel.

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