NEW DELHI, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Indian air force Chief of Air Staff N.A.K. Browne is visiting Israel, a sign of deepening Indian-Israeli defense ties.
"This is a part of routine reciprocal visits between chiefs of various wings of the defense forces of the two countries," an Israeli Ministry of Defense official told The Times of India.
"The visit underlines a very strong strategic relationship between the two countries where cooperation with India would probably rank only second to the United States."
India is Israel's the largest purchaser of arms and equipment, with Israeli total defense equipment exports to India reaching $9 billion since 1997, The Times of India reported Monday. The Economic Times put the total value of the defense trade at $10 billion.
While the Russian Federation remains India's largest source of arms imports, the rapidly rising cost of spare parts for Russian equipment soaring 300-500 percent has increased Israel's market presence. Some analysts predict that Israel could soon overtake Russia as India's primary defense supplier.
Major bilateral areas of cooperation include submarine-launched cruise missiles, micro-satellite systems for surveillance, laser-guided systems and precision-guided munitions, anti-ballistic missile systems, radar systems and the upgrading of Soviet and Russian supplied weapons systems, including aircraft, artillery and tanks.
One area in which the use of Israeli supplied military systems has had a significant effect is along India's 2,912-mile border with Pakistan, where state-of-the-art Israeli advanced sensor systems have slashed infiltration levels across the frontier.
Such successes have been a significant factor in increasing India's armaments purchases from Israel, with one Indian Ministry of Defense official observing on condition of anonymity, "No other country could make such a big entry in such a short time as Israel did in India's defense business."
The first significant Indian purchases of Israeli weapons systems occurred in 1996, when India purchased an air combat maneuvering system, which was installed at the Jamnagar Air Base along with a $10 million contract for two Dvora MK-2 patrol boats for the Indian navy, while Israeli firm Elta won a multimillion-dollar contract to upgrade the avionics on India's Soviet-built MiG-21 fighter jets.
Another factor bolstering India's purchase of Israeli munitions systems is that, unlike many Western arms companies subject to their governments' considerations, Israeli armaments firms don't insist on either economic or political strict conditions but are relatively liberal on issues of technology transfer.
Another contributing factor is that Israeli defense products are frequently significantly less expensive than their competitors.
One issue complicating the relationship, however, is the question of corruption with the Indian government banning Israeli Military Industries from doing business in India over bribery allegations.