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New Hunter-Killers For Indian Armed Forces: The MQ-9 Reaper drones

While tensions on LAC with China continue, India is planning to procure 30 MQ-9 Reaper drones (also known as Predator B) from the US. These are considered as world’s one of the deadliest drones. They will be immensely helpful to India in LAC and LOC for surveillance and reconnaissance. Also, they will add great strength to India’s firepower.

Background

  • India showed its interest in the system for the first time in 2016. At first, US offered 22 units of Sea Guardian drone. It is a naval variant of Predator B. It is an armed drone but it is very expensive and restricted for maritime use only. Thus due to budgetary constraints, Indian policy makers decided to go with all in one platform.
  • Thus to go for a drone for all three armed forces. Forces are looking for a drone which can carry both the tasks. Firstly, to carry out ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and secondly, the ground attack missions.
  • Therefore India decided to go for MQ-9 Reaper drones. On 24th July, USA eased restrictions on exports of military drones. According to report of Times of India, dated 25th July, which quotes top defence sources, government is planning for 30 such drones. There will be 10 drones for each service. But 6 of these (2 for each service) will be procured through fast track procurement (FTP) route.

What was the need ?

1. Lack of an armed drone-

Indian armed forces currently operate various drones. Some of these are-

  • Heron– An Israeli drone platform mainly used for surveillance and reconnaissance.
  • Searcher– An Israeli UAVs used for reconnaissance.
  • Harop– Specifically a loitering munition. It carries warheads but gets itself hit on the target. Thus carrying a suicide attack.

Thus it is clear that Indian armed forces lack a proper armed UAV.

Heron UAV
Heron UAV which is already in the service of Indian armed forces..

2. Adversaries already operating armed drones-

Currently China operates Wing loong 2 armed drones. It is also planning to deliver them to Pakistan. It can carry 12 air to surface missiles. In such a scenario it’s imperative for India to have such state of the art drones.

Wing loong2 armed UAV of China
Wing loong 2 armed UAV of China

Specifications of MQ-9 Reaper drones –

RoleUnmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV)
ManufacturerGeneral Atomics Aeronautical systems
CostUS $ 15.9 million ( around INR 119 crores)
UsersUS Air Force, Royal Air Force, Italian Air Force

General characteristics-

Crew 2 (in ground station)
Length36 ft
Wingspan65.7 ft
Height 12.5 ft
Payload 1700 kg
Hardpoints7
General features of MQ-9 Reaper drones

Performance

Max. speed482 km/hr
Range1900 km
Endurance14 hrs fully loaded
Max. altitude50,000 ft
Performance parameters
MQ-9 Reaper drone
A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down an Afghanistan runway.

Armaments

  • AGM-114 Hellfire air to ground missiles- upto 4
  • GBU-12 Paveway II Laser guided bombs– 2
  • GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM)

Also testing is underway for AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles.

How MQ-9 Reaper drones will be a Game-Changer?

  • This is a battle proven drone. It was used with great success in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Also, it was combination of this drone and hellfire missile that killed Iran’s General Qasem Solemani in January this year. Also India will be the only country in Asia to have this platform.
  • This deal is facilitated by the fact that US has given status of “major defence partner” to India. Signing of COMCASA will facilitate induction and operationalization of MQ-9 Reaper drones.

Why There Was a Delay?

  • According to Hindustan Times report, US was apprehensive about the leakage of this technology to Russia and India’s other arms suppliers. India is procuring S-400 air defence system from Russia. US fears that S-400 will acquire signatures of this US aerial platform and convey them to Moscow.
MQ-9 Reaper drone
Aircrews perform a pre-flight check on an MQ-9 Reaper before it takes of for a mission.

What about Indigenisation?

India knows indigenization is the way ahead. following attempts are going on for an armed drone-

  • Currently, a Noida based company is developing an armed drone but it seems distant.It’s several tests have failed in Ladakh due to strong winds there.
  • Project Cheetah– this is aimed at arming the Heron UAVs which are already their in the service.
  • DRDO is also coming up with MALE (Medium altitude long endurance) Rustom 2 prototype by the end of this year. But there is ambiguity about whether it will be an armed UAV.
  • DRDO is also working on Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft (AURA). This will be an indigenous HALE (High altitude long endurance) UCAV.

But these developments are going to take time. Thus MQ-9 Reaper drones provide a good option.

Prasad Gore

A defence enthusiast. Student of Defence and Strategic Studies. Pursuing post graduation and qualified NET.

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