Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is going all out to derail a deal that has been in final negotiations in recent weeks for the $3bn sale of 30 MQ-9B Predator armed drones from General Atomics (GA) to India. IAI is pushing to convince the Indian government to relaunch the Rustom-II project led by IAI in partnership with India’s Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL). The Rustom has the advantage of being less costly than the US materiel, as well as meeting with technology transfer and local industry requirements laid down in the Indian government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. In 2015, the Indian armed forces were ready to order 75 Rustom-II drones for surveillance missions but the procurement of off-the-shelf Predator drones would kill the project.
Choudhrie to the rescue
IAI’s traditional contacts are helping its cause. According to our sources, both Eliahu Alfassi and Daniel Katsav, key IAI executives in New Delhi, have had a series of meetings with Banhu Choudhrie, the son of arms agent Sudhir Choudhrie, and retired colonel HS Shankar, the chairman of the Choudries’ company Alpha Design Technologies (ADT), to relaunch the Rustom project. The development of the medium altitude long endurance tactical drone is being supervised locally by Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), a drone laboratory that is part of the public Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
IAI sales executives have also met with the director of the laboratory, Dr. S. Venugopal, several times in the past couple of months. With the help of IAI engineers, the laboratory conducted the first autonomous take off and landing test of the Rustom-II using a satellite system developed with Alpha Design Technologies. The company and IAI are also helping the laboratory to carry out design modifications on electronic intelligence (ELINT) and communications intelligence (COMINT) systems acquired from Israeli defence companies.
In addition to the help from Choudhrie, who used to represent a large array of Israeli defence companies in India IAI is counting on support from Dr Vijay Kumar Saraswat, the former director of the DRDO who is now a member of the government’s NITI Aayog think tank.
Choudhrie v Aghi
The US proposal is being touted by Mukesh Aghi, an influential Washington-based lobbyist, president of the strategic US-India Strategic Partnership Forum and close friend of Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.