NEW DELHI: India Can Now Get Long-Range Armed Drones From US. The combination of two foundational pacts inked with the US, COMCASA in 2018 and BECA on Tuesday, has paved the way for India to acquire armed drones like Reapers or Predators for long-range precision strikes against hostile targets on land and sea. The Indian armed forces have been pushing for the acquisition of 30 ‘hunter-killer’ weaponized Sea Guardian or MQ-9 Reaper drones, which would cost around $3 billion, with fast-track procurement of six of them amidst the ongoing military confrontation with China.
“With the legal technology enabling pacts in place with the US, procedural hurdles for the acquisition of these high-altitude, long-endurance armed drones have been cleared. The question now is of money, which is being examined,” said an official. The Communications, Compatibility, and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) allows India access to advanced military platforms with encrypted and secure communications and data links like the armed drones.
The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), in turn, provides for real-time exchange of geospatial intelligence through advanced satellite imagery, topographical and aeronautical digital data for long-range navigation, and pinpointed strikes against enemy targets. Defense minister Rajnath Singh, on his part, described the signing of BECA, after the military logistics pact LEMOA in 2016 and COMCASA in 2018, as “a significant achievement” on Tuesday.
Apart from the proposed acquisition of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), which are controlled by satellite links to bomb targets far away, India is also set to work with the US in developing small-sized “drone swarms” that can overwhelm and destroy an enemy’s air defence systems. “India and US have identified priority near-term projects for joint development, which need to be fast-tracked under the defence technology and trade initiative (DTTI),” said Singh. The “short-term” projects under DTTI include the air-launched small aerial systems or drone swarms, light-weight small arms technology and ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance) systems. A long-term one is an anti-drone technology called “counter-UAS rocket, artillery and mortar systems”. The two countries on Tuesday also decided to further crank up their already expansive defence cooperation, military interoperability and intelligence-exchange through the Maritime Information Sharing Technical Arrangement (MISTA).
In addition to increasing the scale and complexity of bilateral combat exercises, the Indian armed forces will now enhance ties with the US Central Command and Africa Command, in addition to the Indo-Pacific Command that covers India, to “promote shared security interests”. There will also be regular interaction between the Special Forces of the two countries. “We also explored the probable capacity building and other joint cooperation activities in third countries, including our neighborhood and beyond. We have a convergence of views on a number of such proposals and will take those forward,” said Singh. The two sides also shared assessment of the security situation across the Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China’s expansionist and aggressive behavior. “We reaffirmed our commitment to peace, stability, and prosperity of all countries in this region,” he said. “We also agreed that upholding the rules-based international order, respecting the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the international seas and upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states are essential,” he added.