India A Step Closer To Getting Armed Drones From The US; $3 Billion Deal For 30 MQ-9 UAVs Likely To Get MoD Approval Soon
The acquisition of MQ-9s will give India an edge over its adversaries both in the Himalayan terrain and over sea.
India is now a step closer to getting 30 armed General Atomics MQ-9B Guardians drones from the United States, a report in the India Today says.
In a series of meetings amid a serious standoff with China, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) led by Rajnath Singh has given a go-ahead for the procurement of six of these unmanned aerial vehicles, two each for the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force.
The acquisition of MQ-9s will give India an edge over its adversaries both in the Himalayan terrain and over sea as the drone can “carry electro-optical/infra-red multi-mode radar and multi-mode maritime surveillance radar, laser designators, electronic support measures and various weapons packages.”
MQ-9, General Atomics’ website says, has an endurance of over 27 hours, can operate up to 50,000 feet, and has a 1,746 kilogram payload capacity.
“The aircraft carries 500 per cent more payload and has nine times the horsepower. It provides a long-endurance, persistent surveillance/strike capability for the war fighter,” the literature on the website reads.
Armed drones will give India the ability to target enemy installations with pin point accuracy without the risks involved in the use of a manned aircraft.
In an upcoming meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), a body headed by the Minister of Defence , an ‘acceptance of necessity’ approval for the $3 billion deal — the first step in the procurement process — will be sought.
The deal, this report adds, is being broken up into two parts. In the first part, six armed drones will be bought for approximately $600 million or Rs 4,400 crore. These will be delivered within months after a deal is inked. The remaining 24 drones will be bought under the optional clause over the next three years.
Given that this procurement is being pursued by the Ministry of Defence under the fast-track, government-to-government framework, it is likely to take much less time compared to some other defence procurement deals.
To make sure that the deliveries are swift, the first six drones could “possibly be units already produced for the US armed forces or its allies”, the report says.
The meetings related to the deal are being steered by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, who is responsible for streamlining defence acquisitions.
The urgency is such that the MoD, the report in India Today says, may even convene a special meeting of the DAC to grant approval for the deal.
The Indian Navy has been made the lead service for this acquisition.
Equipped with secure data links, the MQ-9s can work along with two other US-origin platforms of the Indian Navy — P-8Is surveillance aircraft and MH-60R helos (likely to be delivered soon) — to make life difficult for Chinese submarines in the India Ocean Region.
Earlier, during the presidency of Barack Obama, the United States had offered India unarmed drones. It 2018, the Donald Trump administration cleared the route for Indian military to buy armed drones from the United States.
The US Air Force has used the MQ-9s extensively in the Middle East and Afghanistan. At one point, it had nearly three squadrons worth of MQ-9A Reapers at Kandahar, the largest deployment of the type to a single base ever. The drone was used to target Taliban, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, and other militant groups.
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