India – US Talks at Advanced Stage for 30 MQ-9B Drones Procurement

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New Delhi / Washington: The deal to procure 30 MQ-9B Predator armed drones by India are at an advanced stage, according to media reports. The discussions on the sale of 30 Predator armed drones, the first to a non-NATO ally by US have intensified and certain issues relating to weapon package, cost component and technology sharing are being sorted out.

The major defence deal worth US $ 3 billion was announced in 2017. The long-endurance-hunter-killer drones are being procured for the three services as they can carry out a variety of roles including maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, over-the-horizon targeting and hitting stationary ground targets. These state-of-the-art drones, manufactured by General Atomics currently have no match in the defence industry.

“It is a capability that operationalises the Major Defence Partner status that has been worked on for several years through the various foundational agreements and India’s insertion into the MTCR. India will be the first non-NATO partner to receive this capability,” according to the sources. Rejecting reports that the deal is off the table, sources said that MQ-9B drones have emerged as a valuable surveillance asset for conducting reconnaissance of India’s maritime and land borders with China and Pakistan.

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To monitor growing Chinese activities including frequent forays by PLA warships in the Indian Ocean Region, the Indian Navy has been bolstering its surveillance mechanism. In 2020, the Indian Navy had taken on lease two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from General Atomics for a period of one year for surveillance in the Indian Ocean. The lease period has been extended subsequently as they have performed very well.

“General Atomics has supported India over the past three years by providing two MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft as part of a company owned/company operated (COCO) lease agreement. Over the past six months, close to 3,000 hours have been flown in support of the Indian Navy’s maritime and land border patrol objectives, covering over 14 million square miles of operating area. Our Indian customer has been impressed by the MQ-9’s over-the-horizon ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) support for surface units and Indian warships, as well as the exceptional endurance and operational availability of the platform,” Dr Vivek Lall, Chief Executive for the General Atomics Global Corporation told media agency PTI.

According to General Atomics, The MQ-9Bs are designed to not only meet the standards of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) but also to comply with civil airspace requirements in the US and around the world. The remotely piloted drones are capable of remaining airborne for around 35 hours. These drones have the ability to carry out long-range precision air strikes. They will add to India’s growing inventory of US-made military equipment that includes attack helicopters, submarine-hunting aircraft and assault rifles.