(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Shishir Gupta)
In the backdrop of India acquiring 30 Predator drones from US for muscling up over the horizon military capability, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is meeting the head of armed drone manufacturer General Atomics along with four other top US company CEOs in Washington on September 23. According to sources based in Washington, PM Modi will be meeting all the four CEOs on one-to-one basis as each company they are heading are leaders in their respective fields. The heads of General Atomics, Qualcomm, semi-conductor major, BlackRock global investment company, First Solar, non-conventional energy leader, and Adobe, US leader in software.
It is understood that Apple CEO Tim Cook dropped out at the last moment due to health reasons as Covid numbers are climbing in the US. It is quite evident from the line-up that PM Modi meetings with the CEOs are with the specific intention of India being a key part of global resilient chain, a military power which matches over the horizon capabilities in the Indo-Pacific and speed up non-conventional energy needs to go beyond the climate change commitments for climate justice. While all the companies are global leaders in their own right, the meeting with General Atomics head acquires significance as Indian Navy is already operating two Predator MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicles for building maritime domain awareness from Gulf of Aden to Lombok Straits in Indonesia.
With Indian Navy as the lead player, India has plans to acquire 30 Predator armed UAVs with each service getting 10 each for muscling its stand-off capabilities. The Predator can be armed with seven Hell-Fire air to surface missiles (ASMs) or laser-guided bombs. The UAV operates at a ceiling of 50,000 feet and has an endurance of nearly 27 hours. It is a multi-mission aircraft with multi-mode radar for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting. It is important for India to acquire armed drones as its own indigenous capability is limited with both Beijing and Islamabad operating Chinese made armed drones. Pakistan is also eyeing to acquire armed drones for Turkey, which now is a self-appointed leader of Sunni world and wants to bring back orthodox legacy of the bygone Ottoman Empire. The Turkish drones were used to good effect in the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict with Pakistani mercenaries operating against Armenia. With the Biden administration giving a green signal for India to acquire Predator drone, it is only a matter of time when the Indian Navy brings up the proposal before the Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC) for the process to take off.