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BMD Focus: BrahMos for Israel?

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) Mar 12, 2008
India's success in co-producing the Mach 2.8 BrahMos supersonic cruise missile with Russia raises the question as to whether New Delhi would be willing or able to sell that technology to Israel -- which urgently needs it.

And it also raises the question of whether Russia would allow India to sell such technology well in advance of current U.S. cruise missile systems to a close U.S. ally.

Israel's strategic deterrent against Iran is its survivable second-strike capability of nuclear-capable U.S.-supplied cruise missiles deployed on its three German-built Dolphin class studies submarines, or U-boats.

But in practice, this Israeli second-strike capability remains highly vulnerable. First, because only one of the three submarines can remain on station at any one time as a second will be either returning to port or coming back to sea and the third will be re-equipping and its crew resting at home at the same time, the deterrent comes down to only a single submarine that may be vulnerable to pre-emptive enemy attack and destruction, rendering its second-strike deterrent useless.

The Israelis realize that, which is why they have wisely ordered two more such submarines from Germany. That should help greatly with the survivability problem.

But the second problem with Israel's nuclear cruise missile deterrent against Iran is far more fundamental.

The cruise missiles that carry the Israeli- submarine-based second-strike deterrent are U.S. Tomahawks, and therefore they are slow -- flying only at 700 miles per hour. The Russians claim that their S-300 and Tor-M1 anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, which have already been supplied to Iran, have an up to 80 percent success rate at shooting down Tomahawks.

Lockheed Martin, which makes the Tomahawks, disputes this. And it correctly points out that the Tomahawks have a formidable stealth capability. But the fact remains that, given the chance, the Israelis would obviously vastly prefer to have Mach 2.8, 2,000 miles per hour Indian cruise missiles they could fire from their Dolphins rather than 700 miles per hour American ones.

Israeli-Indian relations remain excellent. Indeed, the Indian conception of having cruise missiles armed on their own Scorpion diesel-powered submarines purchased from France as a survivable second strike against Pakistan was deliberately and consciously modeled on the Israeli Dolphin-Tomahawk model.

But, again, would Russia permit India to sell BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles to Israel, when Russia remains the primary arms supplier to Israeli's greatest enemies, Syria and Iran? Also, Israel remains exceptionally close to, supportive of and dependent upon the United States.

If India did sell the BrahMos systems to Israel, the Russians would have to assume that the United States would act immediately to access that cruise missile technology and use it to dramatically upgrade its own.

Again, even if future governments in India were willing to make such a trade, it seems doubtful Russia would let them. And if Israel sought such a deal but found it blocked, would that do permanent damage to the Israeli-Indian strategic relationship?

Yet it might well be in India's interests to sell the BrahMos system to Israel. Over the past 60 years, the tiny Jewish state has often had less than successful experiences in developing ambitious high-tech weapons systems on its own. Its resource base has simply been too small for it realistically to do so.

When these have succeeded, like the excellent Israel Aerospace Industries Arrow anti-ballistic missile interceptor, it is because large defense contractors in other countries with far greater resources -- in the Arrow's case, Boeing in the United States -- have been major participants and partners in the projects.

However, where Israeli high-tech companies, scientists and engineers have excelled has been in incrementally improving and upgrading the weapons systems they bought from other countries. Much of the enormous success and longevity of the French Dassault Mirage fighter-bomber program was owed to the work Israeli experts did in upgrading it and developing its capabilities in the decades prior to the 1967 Six Day War.

For this reason, Indian leaders may in the future be tempted to give Israeli experts access to the BrahMos to help further upgrade it. But even then, it is difficult to see this happening unless the Kremlin approved it.

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Washington (AFP) March 12, 2008
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