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  • Writer's pictureNikhil Gangamkote

India to announce $3 billion drone deal with the U.S..!

India and the United States are set to announce a significant defense deal during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's upcoming state visit to Washington. The deal involves the purchase of 18 MQ-9 Predator drones from the U.S., with a total value of $3 billion (approximately Rs 24,000 crore).

This agreement will further strengthen the strategic partnership between India and the U.S. Additionally, the two countries are expected to finalize another multi-billion dollar deal for the manufacturing of US-designed General Electric F414 fighter jet engines in India. Furthermore, a separate agreement worth Rs 800 crore will be announced for leasing two MQ-9 Sea Guardian drones for the Indian Navy.

These deals will solidify the United States' position as India's second-largest supplier of defense hardware, following Russia. Over the years, the U.S. has already sold $18 billion worth of military equipment to India since 2008.

One of the most recent deals was the purchase of 24 MH-60R Seahawk naval helicopters, signed in February 2020 for $2.1 billion.

The MQ-9 Predator drone is a satellite-steered High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) aircraft, capable of flying at an altitude of 45,000 feet and staying operational for up to 35 hours.

t is equipped with advanced sensors such as radar and electronic support measures, enabling it to locate and engage targets using bombs and missiles.

The Indian Navy has been operating two unarmed MQ-9 Sea Guardian drones on lease from the U.S.

These drones were acquired under emergency powers granted to the Navy in response to the Ladakh standoff in 2020. They were primarily used to monitor the activities of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy in the Indian Ocean. These drones are currently based at INS Rajali, a naval air station located 70 km west of Chennai.

The procurement of MQ-9 drones has been in the works for the past six years. Initially, the Indian Navy proposed the purchase of 22 Sea Guardians in 2017. Later, the Ministry of Defense expanded the acquisition to include 30 drones, with ten units allocated to each service branch.

However, due to budgetary constraints and a push for indigenous equipment, the numbers were reduced to just six units.

Unlike the previous deal, which was signed between the Indian Navy and the U.S. firm General Atomics under emergency powers, the new agreement will be signed directly by India's Ministry of Defense and the foreign vendor. Notably, this deal does not involve any transfer of technology or defense offsets.

The delivery of the drones is expected to be completed within five years. This procurement will make India the first non-NATO state to receive armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from the U.S. for deployment along its borders and in the Indian Ocean region.

The MQ-9B, also known as the Predator-B, is an enlarged version of the original Predator remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), which first flew in 1994. The Predator series of RPAs has been a critical component of the U.S.'s global military operations, deployed in various hotspots worldwide. In March 2023, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet intercepted a MQ-9 Reaper drone near Crimea, resulting in its forced crash.

According to senior officers, the MQ-9 drones being procured are superior to the leased RPAs in terms of military capabilities. The new drones are upgraded with a new radar system and have higher service ceilings.

They are equipped with a due regard radar, which allows them to operate in controlled airspace. In contrast, the current leased drones operate at around 26,000 feet and are not classified as military aircraft.

The strategic importance of drones in modern warfare cannot be underestimated. Drones have been extensively used in conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war, where both sides employ them to target troops, equipment, and bunkers. Reports suggest that Russia has been shooting down approximately 10,000 Ukrainian drones per month.

In India's neighborhood, Chinese drones have posed significant concerns for the Indian Army along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). In December 2022, the Indian Air Force had to scramble its fighter jets to counter airspace violations by Chinese drones in Arunachal Pradesh. Furthermore, Pakistan has also been utilizing drones for illicit activities, including smuggling arms and drugs across the border. In June 2021, a Pakistan-based terror outfit attacked an Indian military establishment in Jammu and Kashmir using drones armed with explosive charges.

Given the advancements in drone technology by countries such as the U.S., Russia, China, and Turkey, there is a growing concern about the need for counter-drone capabilities. Currently, there is a void in all three branches of the Indian armed forces in terms of drone technology and surveillance. India is dependent on foreign technology but is actively working on developing indigenous solutions.

The acquisition of Predator drones will provide the Indian armed forces with enhanced surveillance capabilities along the country's land and sea borders until indigenous options are fully developed.

Drones, ranging from small to large with various payloads, are considered the future of warfare. India recognizes the need to make significant strides in drone manufacturing to meet its defense requirements.

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