India is finalising its deal to acquire 30 US made MQ-9 Reaper or Predator B armed drones for its military. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh-led Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) will take the final call in its meeting scheduled for next week.
Official sources claim that India will be acquiring 30 MQ-9 Reaper—10 each for the three services (Army, Navy and IAF)—from the US worth $3 billion (approximately ₹22,000 crores). The procurement of armed drones will further sharpen India’s offensive capabilities as till date Indian military only operates drones for surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
“Earlier, one of the services was not keen to go ahead with the procurement of Predator B armed drones. But, now all issues have been resolved. DAC will take a final call on the issue soon,” said a defence official.
Moreover, if the deal goes through, it would be the first tri-service procurement since Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat was appointed to synergise the operational and procurement requirement of the armed forces. Once cleared by the DAC, the cabinet committee on security will give its final approval.
In 2019, Donald Trump-led US administration had approved the sale of Predator-B armed drones to India. If it happens, India will become the first country outside the NATO alliance to get such a weapon from Washington.
Last year, Major General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was killed along with several officials from Iraqi militia backed by Tehran when an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the airport.
The MQ-9B, manufactured by San Diego-based General Atomics, has an endurance of 48 hours, can carry a payload of about 1,700 kilograms (3,700 pounds) with a range of over 6,000 nautical miles. It comes with nine hard-points, capable of carrying sensors and laser-guided bombs besides air-to-ground missiles, with a maximum payload of two tonnes.
With the weaponised drone, the Indian military will be able to do what NATO forces did in Afghanistan; launching remote control operations and surgical strikes on terrorists’ hideouts in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and engaging with targets on Himalayan borders. It has also given long legs to Indian navy to keep an eye on Chinese warships loitering the southern Indian Ocean. Last year, Indian navy leased two unarmed MQ-9 Predators amidst tension on border with China in eastern Ladakh. Presently, Indian security agencies use Israeli UAVs, and Defence Research and Development Organisation-developed Netra and Rustom drones.
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is already in India to enhance bilateral relations between the two strategic partners. Last week, the US has handed over two MH 60 R multi-role helicopters to Indian navy. The Indian navy is procuring 24 of these Multi Role Helicopters (MRH) manufactured by Lockheed Martin under foreign military sales from the US government at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion. The deal was signed in February 2020, when then US President Donald Trump was on his maiden visit to India.