There could be tactical reasons for the Indian silence on the Israeli media’s claim that no less than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had spoken of a revival of India’s plans to procure Spike anti-tank guided missiles from his country, yet that could be the biggest “take away” from his trip to this country. For the recent decision to cancel the Rs 3,200-crore deal for some 1,600 units of the fourth-generation hand-held missile had threatened to sour the bilateral military relations.

Certainly it would bring considerable financial gain for its producer, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd. A top official from the firm had been part of the Netanyahu delegation, and he would be thrilled with what the Israeli media hailed as a “major strategic achievement”. While details of the revised deal are yet to be finalised ~ numbers, prices, technology transfers etc. ~ the Indian army would welcome being equipped with one of the world’s most reputed weapons system in its class.

Israel has grown to become one of the top suppliers of defence equipment to India, and success in resurrecting a purchase that appeared to have been shelved a couple of weeks ago could trigger greater cooperation: particularly welcome if it meant a transfer of technology and triggered the possibility of an Israeli firm being selected for a massive order to supply modern rifles/carbines ~ the purchase of which has just been cleared. There are few political strings attached to the acquisition of arms from Israel, except the likelihood of “Arab Street” viewing it as further evidence of a shift in Indian policy under the present government.

There would be negative interpretations of the Israeli reports for the domestic industry, particularly the research and development organisation. Until these reports appeared it seemed to have convinced the defence ministry of the quality and cost-effectiveness of an Indian anti-tank missile system. And to a large extent its efforts might have been “spiked”. Sadly, for all the fanfare accorded to the Indigenous Missile Development Programme its “bread and butter” weaponry has not been able to withstand foreign “pressure” once the Missile Technology Control Regime ceased to be in force against India. Humble pie may now have to be eaten and a role sought in the domestic production of the Spike.

That role could increase given the present thrust on “make in India”, in fact home-built weaponry in partnership with foreign firms might be the best way forward provided the indigenous component of the arrangement goes beyond mere licensed production. The Indian soldier deserves the best weaponry the nation’s finances permit, his patriotism must not be seen to include weapons of less than top quality simply because they are Indian-made. That is an obsolete requirement, a hangover from the days of “socialism”. Warfare equates with the survival of the fittest: that applies to the defence industry too, not just the soldier.