(Part II of a two-part series)
In the previous part of this article, I had written about the importance of Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) and the current capabilities of India and Israel. What makes DEWs an attractive proposition for any country in the world is its cost-effectiveness.
Currently, the IDF is testing two laser-based weapon systems: Iron Beam and Light Blade. The Iron Beam is calibrated towards low-flying projectiles such as mortars, anti-tank missiles, and crude Grad/Scud rockets.
The short aerial trajectories of these objects (<7km) in addition to their over-abundance has posed persistent problems, both logistically and in terms of cost.
The Iron Beam allows for a cost-effective and more accurate response to this set of threats than is currently available.Along similar lines, the Light Blade system is intended to locate and neutralize incendiary objects, balloon/kite born explosives, and drones before they even cross into Israeli airspace.
Both technologies employ a pin-pointed electric laser to superheat and explode incoming projectiles or UAV’s in-flight. A critical advantage of laser defence technology over more conventional missile interception is that once developed, a laser-based weapon will enjoy unlimited and virtually cost-free ammunition.
Likewise, their smaller size compared to traditional missile batteries allows them to be mounted on armoured vehicles or an aircraft for integration into a future battlespace at the tactical level.
A final advantage is predictive; as drone technology improves, and rivals such as Hezbollah, develop offensive strategies premised on overwhelming Israel’s missile defences, laser technology stands as a technical innovation that re-levels the battlespace.
The Indian government has sanctioned Rs 115 crore for its own developmental program. Yes, the initial price tag is certainly high, yet once developed, the laser weapon is relatively cheap.
They are known for being low-cost, high impact solutions given their high accuracy. As research and development is still in process, theoretically, it costs only $1 per shot,going up to $10 for the most powerful laser weapon.
Though literature available on Indian development and the exact cost is limited, other tests around the globe have made it clear that operating a laser weapon is very cost-effective.
Gp. Capt. P. A. Patil, a senior fellow at Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), while writing on the laser weapon development states, “At this juncture, it is well known that no nation will share the critical technologies related to new concept weapon systems. Hence, it is imperative for India to invest in its research and development programs (R&D).”
However, we live in the era of diplomacy and it is essential that we understand the economics and efficiency of sharing and collaborating.
In a recent paper, researchers in the field have advocated for international collaboration; for instance, policymakers in the US and Europe have called for greater international weapons-procurement collaboration to control mushrooming development and production costs, thus achieving equipment rationalization and standardization simultaneously.
It is certain that by cooperating on sharing resources, technology and expenses, the total cost involved can be reduced and the work rendered more efficient. However, a disadvantage is that multilateral collaboration on sensitive defence technologies is delicate at best.
India and Israel have recently started to enjoy common goals and stronger tries, and both of the countries have decided to invest time and money on laser development in 2020.
Politically, it is an apt time to explore possibilities for collaboration given Israel’s expertise in aerial defence paired with India’s efficiency in developing cost-effective technology.
Sameer Mallya, a global security analyst, gives a crisp opinion on this opportunity: “All cutting edge Israeli equipment lands in India ultimately, the tech sold is not customized to Indian needs but mostly battle-tested. Countries do not usually share core tech and, joint R&D is an uncertain process. Purchasing Israeli equipment would be expensive as compared to Russian but the reliability, as well as supply of spare parts and the operational edge it provides, is unrivalled.”
It behooves policymakers to understand the prospects for mutual gain in joining hands to develop game-changing weapons, particularly as development globally is still in a nascent stage.
Let’s make 2020 the year when we establish deeper international defence collaboration in order to achieve common goals.
(Read Part-I of the two-part series here)
(This post first appeared here in The Tilak Chronicle.)
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.