August 12, 2007, 5:08 PM (GMT+02:00)
Israel’s outgoing Navy commander Maj. Gen. Dan Bashat discussed the project during his talks with his opposite number Adm. Sureesh Mehta in India last week, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. Adm. Mehta estimated that the Indian Navy could use 40-50 helicopters of this kind.
Although Indian-Israeli defense relations have been expanding for the past eight years, this was the first visit to New Delhi by an Israeli Navy commander. The helicopter project would be a revolutionary step for the Indian and Israelis Navies, providing them both with their first independent air arms.
This capability was sorely wanting in the 2006 Lebanon War, when the Israeli missile vessel <iHanitb> was hit and crippled by a C-802 shore-to-sea missile opposite Beirut. This incident brought home to the navies or Israel and other nations that their advanced air defense systems against missiles, such as the Israeli Barak, were not proof against the C-802 missiles acquired by Iran, Syria and Hizballah and their exceptional features.
The C-802, designed in China, has a range of 8 km and its ability to gain altitude on its way to target turns it into a kind of cruise missile which can fly out of range of the vessel’s electronic defenses. This shore-to-ship weapon is also armed with superior navigation, guidance and jamming capabilities.
Since the <iHaniti> was hit, on July 14, 2006, Israeli warships have kept their distance from the Lebanese shore. This seriously detracts from their ability to monitor the Lebanese and Syrian coasts for hostile weaponry.
In a war, Israeli would be stuck with the sole options of intelligence for detecting Syrian and Hizballah missile batteries, and chancy, dangerous and expensive air strikes to destroy them. Attacking Israeli bombers would have to come in low to hit anti-ship missile batteries deployed on the Lebanese waterline and be exposed to fire from their protective array of anti-aircraft missiles.
This imbalance could be radically altered by providing the warships with a capability for launching against enemy shores unmanned helicopters which would be equipped with electronic instruments to detect the presence of hostile anti-ship missiles and the weapons to destroy them.
Indian and Israeli warships face the same threat since Pakistan acquired C-802 shore-to-sea missiles from China. Both have therefore opted for the same antidote, a sophisticated unmanned combat helicopter.
On May 11, 2006, DEBKAfile’s military sources disclosed exclusively that Syria had recently supplied Hizballah with large numbers of C-802s. Since then they have been deployed with new mobile radar stations along the Lebanese coast as far south as Tyre, from which Israeli warships in Israeli territorial waters are in range opposite the seaside towns of Nahariya and Acre. A year ago, Hizballah had to commandeer Lebanese Navy coastal radar stations to fire the C-802. Equipped now with mobile radar systems, the Shiite terror group can operate the missile independently.