Rafael's 'Protector 2'
Indian auto major Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. is entering the coastal surveillance craft business. The country's biggest SUV manufacturer will collaborate with an Israeli company Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. to set up a facility in Pune towards this end.
Although details have only recently been made public, the initial announcement of the Joint Venture was made at Delhi's DefExpo exhibition at the end of March. Rafael currently manufactures the 'Protector', a 9 metre long stealthy, fast (50 knots) and highly manoeuvrable remotely controlled USV (unmanned surveillance vessel) with surveillance, identification and interception capabilities; the company says that its new version will be longer with wider weaponry. It is equipped with a Mini-Typhoon stabilised weapons system, an electro optic day or night surveillance and targeting system, laser rangefinders, GPS, Radar, inertial navigation and a public address system. Remotely controlled from ashore or another ship, it is meant to act as a country's first line of defence.
The Mini Typhoon is the remote-controlled weapon station aboard the Protector. It can be fitted with a .50 calibre machine gun or a grenade launcher and is highly accurate- it will keep the weapon aimed to within 500 mm at a target 1000 metres away.
Rafael, established as a part of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, has manufactured high tech defence systems for air, land, sea and space applications. The company will now invest in Mahindra's existing Naval Systems division in Pune, holding a 26 percent stake in the outfit. Anand Mahindra, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. says, "Our Joint venture with Rafael signals our strategic entry into a wide range of high tech-defence solutions which will enable the Mahindra Group to become a leading defence systems integrator in India."
Brig (Retd) KA Hai, Chief Executive, Mahindra Defence Systems, said, "This JV will enable Mahindra Defence Systems to further leverage its innovative solutions in the maritime domain, enhance its product offerings, and present it with new avenues for growth. We intend to further expand into air, land, and aerospace defence solutions." The unit has been a longstanding supplier of armoured Mahindra vehicles to the Indian Ministry of Defence.
Mahindra hopes that the JV will further reduce the nation's dependence on foreign suppliers for critical equipment needed for India's security. The country is the world's largest arms importer, with about 40 percent of its equipment made indigenously- up from 30 percent. It will spend almost 2 trillion rupees a year on defence this year. Besides Mahindra, the Tatas and Ashok Leyland are also expanding their defence equipment businesses.
India's push to boost maritime security after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks is no secret. Although unmanned patrol vessels are new to the country, experts agree that they will prove very useful in patrolling India's 7500 km long coastline. Brig Hai told Bloomberg, “Unmanned patrol vessels will be needed in large numbers to protect from infiltration by terrorists, protect our offshore assets and patrol vital coastal assets such as nuclear plants.”