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Predator Drone Lease: Advantage?

Yesterday an interesting explosion of news came out when heard that the Indian Navy inducted the MQ-9B Predator drone in the number of 2 which are on lease and to be served as an advantage. This is a really interesting and sudden development seen in Indian defense and there are various reasons for saying this, as a sudden development. Let’s understand this news and analyze it step by step

Why A Shock?

In the recent visit of Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper for 2+2 Dialogue to India, it was reported that India Outrightly Reject American MQ-9 Reaper Drones. So this news came around October 29, 2020. And as per the news from ANI, it is said that the Drones came in the 2nd week of November. And are now operational as per date November 21, 2020. So Rejection of drones and suddenly, such purchase. We all know India doesn’t procure even emergency overnights, maybe before a month or two, the talks would already be on the table.

Above this, very recently the DPP was changed and Provisions were allowed on the Leased purchase. Never in History, it was seen that as soon after DPP’s rule is utilized. This shows that the idea was already in Pipelines. Also one needs to see that the Navy brought this under the Emergency Procurement Powers, which shows that the Navy was actually determined and had a total need for it. Emergency powers are only used when there are real shortcomings in operational preparedness.

Understanding The Drone

The MQ-9B Sea Guardian is the version that is actually leased. We will not go into depth but we will learn here the possible needed. The drone is Medium Altitude Long Endurance. The service ceiling is 50,000 ft.

The endurance of this drone is about 40 hours. Thing is to be known that these are not armed, Means the drone are just for surveillance. It has capabilities High Definition EO/IR Full Motion Video sensor, De/Anti-Icing System, TCAS, and Automatic Take-Off & Land. The SeaGuardian is a proposed version of SkyGuardian but also fitted with Multimode 360 Maritime Surface Search Radar and  Automated Identification System (AIS).

For more details on the same, we also have a video where you can learn more about it and its comparison with Chinese drone Wing Loong 2 and Rustom 2.

Advantage

This drone since has got a long endurance time, it can fill the surveillance on the IOR region, normally done by P8-I aircraft. So it would serve as a supplement of the same. The range of the same is 1850 km.

Also, all the LAC issues are at high-altitudes. But since the service ceiling of the drone is around 50,000 feet. It would help to keep a constant watch on the troop deployment. This would also help in the time of satellite blind spot and also work when P8-I is not needed. At the same time, it can be configured as per the missions and can also operate in various weather conditions.

Also if the drones are not found compatible, after the lease gets over we can return back. In this way, we won’t possess the asset, which has become a liability.

India can keep all the data collected by the drone. India won’t have any compulsion to share the data of the same with the US. This gives us the freedom to operate the drone according to our likes. Also, the joystick of the drone will totally be in the control of India itself. Adding the cherry on top is that, US officials will take care of the maintenance and operationality of the drones.

Since it can be operated from direct and also via satellite communication it can help Indian Navy to cover a very large area for Surveillance. It can also launch sonobuoys if configured for ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare).

It would also help India to fill the critical gap and also take it as a frame of reference for the Indigenous platform. Indian Military will get enough experience and technical know-how of operating it.

Possible Issues

The drones are unarmed. It would have given us a great deal of strategic deterrence of they would have been armed and also would serve as a threat to China

The lease is for a very short period i.e. 1 year only which is said to be very less. But one can also see it as a way it shows a potential that within one year they can be permanently brought or further leased.

Operating at Sea and operating at LAC is totally different thing. LAC we know has harsh weather, high altitudes, and low temperatures. The operation ability of the same needs to be checked for LAC in a totally different way.

It is not yet confirmed by any news sources that whether the ground-based communication or the data will be Indian or not. This is to be thought that for 2 drones and just for 1 year, one won’t get the support infrastructure and the remote pilot data access. India would be indirectly using the US mode of Communication like US datalink and Satellites to communicate with the drone. All of this will pass through the channel of the US-based ground center. Control is no doubt of us but Channel is possed by both.

Conclusion

The drone adds teeth in surveillance but not teeth in offensive operation which is to be noted. At the same time, channels to be used are not thrown any light by any media nor military. Also operating in the Himalayas is a different ball game that needs to play very carefully.

If in further future, if more such drones are leased then this is an advantage. Also, this stunt of the lease could be also done from a political angle. One should not ignore the possibility that since Biden would be now in office, India might have done this to just make the administration happy and also as a warning that if care is not taken of Indian Interest they would lose a strategic advantage and also defense deal of more than 3 Billion USD.

One must also remember what role did the drones played in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Indian Military is in desperate need of the platforms.

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Nirav Kotak

A Mechanical Engineer and a Defense Enthusiast wanting to share knowledge and learn more from others as well.

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