First a warning - this is a slightly longer post than usual, but I think this topic deserves it.
I was on holiday when this story in the Jerusalem Post
, that Washington blocked Israel Aircraft Industries from offering an Elta Systems radar for the Saab Gripen proposal to India, came out. I have since had time to think about it and ask around.
The Post says that Israel's defence ministry ordered IAI to back out due to the Pentagon's concern that US technology in the radar may find its way to the Indians. That makes little sense.
If Washington were worried about technology transfer, it would have tried to scupper India's earlier deals with Israel and prevented US companies from competing in the same tender under similar conditions. It did not.
Furthermore, Saab said in March that France's Selex was developing an AESA radar
for the Gripen NG. Industry sources say that India had been keen on the Elta radar earlier, but it dropped that plan realising that it would not be offered.
It is not clear why that happened and the Americans could have had a hand. But that does not matter now anyway, given that New Delhi has been assessing the Gripen for the last few months on the basis that it comes with the Selex and not the Elta radar.
Industry sources say that there are probably two underlying issues behind this debate.
The closely-watched Indian medium multi-role combat aircraft competition has some way to go before being resolved, and we can expect plenty of "news" until then about the contenders facing difficulties or getting kicked out. For example, word went out earlier this year that first the Gripen and later the Dassault Rafale was eliminated. Both stories were wrong, and we were one of the first to say so.
Others say that if the Pentagon stepped in, it reflects the growing competition between the US and Israeli defence companies, which developed a lot of their technology with American help. This competition has existed for several years, but Israel is fast becoming a major player globally. In India, for instance, it recently overtook Russia as the country's leading arms supplier. That is a threat to the US companies, which need export markets like India to overcome falling revenues and budgets at home.
This latest story about the Elta radar in India appears to be just a sub-plot to a bigger narrative about the increasingly competitive global markets for defence contractors.