If all goes as planned, India will ink a $3 billion deal with the United States for 30 MQ-9 Reaper or Predator B armed drones when the two countries sit down for the 2+2 dialogue scheduled for December.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will meet their US counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, in December in Washington where the final contract will be signed.
As India prepares to include the MQ-9 Reaper in its arsenal, take a look at the drone and how it will benefit Indian Armed Forces.
What Are Predator Drones?
Named as ‘MQ-9 Reaper’ by the US Air Force and Royal Air Force customers, the Predator B is a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).
The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance.
The Reaper has a 950-shaft-horsepower (712 kW) turboprop engine, allowing it to carry 15 times more ordnance payload and cruise at about three times the speed of its predecessor.
The craft can be flown for over 27 hours in the air at a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet.
According to defence contractors General Atomics, the drones possess the capabilities to be used for long-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions over a wide-area. Easy configuration of the drone makes it easier to operate the aircraft during missions.
India’s Predator Deal
The Predator deal first took root in the erstwhile Trump administration. In 2017, when Narendra Modi had visited the US, the two heads had discussed the deal after the Indian Army had shown interest in purchasing General Atomics Avenger UAV.
However, the deal didn’t materialise then.
It was then announced in March of 2021 that the Indian Navy, Army and Air Force would finally jointly procure 30 armed versions of the American unmanned aerial system in what could be a $3 billion deal.
The procurement is being done as India faces a war-like situation on two fronts — Pakistan and China.
It’s important for India to acquire these armed drones as its own indigenous capability is limited.
Meanwhile, both Beijing and Islamabad operate Chinese-made armed drones. Pakistan is also eyeing to acquire some armed drones from Turkey.
The news of the acquisition comes on the heels of Narendra Modi meeting Vivek Lall, the Chief Executive at General Atomics Global Corporation, during his September visit to Washington.
India’s Recent Leased Drones
India is the third largest importer of (military grade) UAVs, with 6.8 percent share of the total UAV transfers or deliveries reported across the globe ending 2020, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRIs) Arms Transfers database.
India’s first UAV import was reported in 1998 from Israel, as per SIPRI’s records. Most of the country’s imported drones are surveillance and reconnaissance types.
Recently, India also signed a lease with Israel for four advanced Heron surveillance drones, which will be deployed along the Line of Actual Control with China for long surveillance missions.
Importance of Drones In Future Warfare
Drones have become an integral part of warfare. Indian Army Chief, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, in a webinar organised by Centre for Land Warfare Studies, also highlighted the role of drones in military warfare.
The Indian Army Chief said that everyone has seen how the very imaginative and offensive use of drones in Idlib and then in Armenia-Azerbaijan, challenged the traditional prima donnas: the tanks, the artillery and the dug-in infantry.
Naravane also said that swarm drones could overwhelm and effectively suppress an enemy’s air defence capability, creating windows of opportunities for strike elements. “It is also no longer necessary to score a physical hit to destroy a target.
“Offensive capabilities in the digital domain can effectively neutralise satellites and networks, denying them at critical juncture to decisively alter the course of the conflict,” he had stated.