New Delhi: The Indian Navy which is procuring the MQ-9B Sea Guardian medium altitude long-endurance (MALE) drones from the United States, plans to equip it with sonobuoys, enhancing their ability to detect and track Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Since 2020, the Navy has been operating two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones that were acquired on lease from General Atomics (GA).
Earlier in June, India signed an agreement with the US-government to purchase 31 MQ-9 Sea and Sky Guardian drones for the three services. While fifteen of the drones are intended for the Indian Navy, the remaining 16 (eight each) are designated for the Indian Air Force and Indian Army.
“The new drones will be equipped with weapons, including air-to-ground missiles, bombs, and submarine detection kits fitted with sonobuoys which can help detect hidden enemy submarines,” said Lieutenant Commander Varsha, the first commander of the Guardian drones in the country in an interview with a news agency. She was referring to the sonobuoy management and control system and sonobuoy dispensing system (SDS) that are part of the weapons package of the Guardian drones.
The drone can carry four SDS pods on its four wing pylons, allowing it to carry 40 ‘A’ size or 80 ‘G’ size sonobuoys, according to General Atomics. A sonobuoy is a small device used for underwater acoustic surveillance. It contains hydrophones that detect underwater sounds, especially those made by submarines. These devices are deployed from aircraft or ships and transmit real-time acoustic data, helping pin-point potential submarine threats. These systems, along with the P-8I long-range anti-submarine warfare aircraft, will enable the Navy to hunt Chinese and Pakistani submarines lurking deep in the IOR.
The Sea Guardian, with its 1,200 nautical mile range and significant on-station time, low maintenance, and low operating cost, can loiter over a designated area for a long time, deploying sonobuoys for locating submarines. After the detection of a submarine, the P-8I, with its high speed, can reach the designated area in a short period and drop torpedoes.
According to Lieutenant Commander Lokesh Pandey, second in command of the Navy’s drone unit, these drones also have the ability to patrol the entire IOR in one go, owing to their 30-hour endurance and 4,000 to 8,000-kilometre range.