February 8, 2023

India eyeing Predator armed drones from the US

Source – India Today

To scale up its surveillance capabilities along the border with China in the Himalayan heights, India is looking to acquire from the US a fleet of Predator armed drones. The proposed deal is for 30 MQ-9 Reaper drones worth $3 billion (around Rs 24,500 crore)—10 each for the Army, Navy and Air Force. This will be the first tri-service purchase to synergise the operational and procurement requirements of the Indian armed forces.

Military planners believe the Predator armed drones will strengthen India’s offensive capabilities. While the deal is under process, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which manufactures these drones, has tied up with Bharat Forge to produce landing gear components, subassemblies and assemblies for remotely piloted aircraft (read Predator drones). The US firm is confident that the collaboration will result in significant capability-building for both sides and provide an impetus to the unmanned aircraft industry in India.
Dr Vivek Lall, chief executive, General Atomics Global Corporation, said the company is looking forward to working with Bharat Forge in the critical area of aerostructure manufacturing. “Bharat Forge’s expertise is known globally, and their outstanding contributions in the aerospace sector have inspired us to work together to build the next generation of the world’s most advanced unmanned aerial vehicle,” Lall said.

Navy chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar recently said that the case for procurement of Predator drones was under process. “We are discussing whether the numbers have to be rationalised,” Kumar said.

Meanwhile, India’s indigenous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Tapas is in its last leg of development. The medium-altitude-long-endurance UAV is being developed by the Bengaluru-based Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
In 2020, amidst the border tensions with China in eastern Ladakh, the Indian Navy had acquired for surveillance two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from General Atomics on lease. The two drones have completed over 10,000 hours of flying with the Navy, covering over 14 million square miles.

India has been using drones for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), over the Bay of Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Arabian Sea, and areas around Maldivian waters.

In 2019, the Donald Trump-led US administration had approved the sale of Predator-B armed drones to India. If it goes through, India will be the first country outside the NATO alliance to get such a weapon from Washington.

The strike capabilities of the Predator drone are well known. In January 2020, a Predator drone strike by the US had killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad. He was the commander of the powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The MQ-9B drone can carry payloads of about 1,700 kg over a range of 6,000 nautical miles. It can carry sensors and laser-guided bombs besides air-to-ground missiles, with a maximum payload of two tonnes.
Indian military planners claim that after having armed drone capability, the Indian forces will be able to launch remote-controlled operations and surgical strikes, such as on terrorist hideouts in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and engage targets on the Himalayan borders with China. To date, the Indian military only operates drones from Israel for surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

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