India ‘clears’ $3bn drone deal ahead of US Defence Secy’s visit

The Predator-B, also called the MQ-9 Reaper, is an armed drone and has a long endurance with reconnaissance and target destruction capabilities

UAV drone
The Navy plans to deploy these deadly drones on its large-size warships for surveillance and reconnaissance | Representative Photo: iStock

Months after leasing two American Sea Guardian drones, the three wings of the Indian armed forces have reportedly decided to jointly buy 30 armed versions of the American unmanned aerial system. The deal will be worth $3 billion.

In November last year, the Indian Navy had leased two of these drones. ANI had reported that a proposal was moved in fast track mode by the Navy before the Defence Ministry, under which it will buy 10 Naval Shipborne Unmanned Aerial Systems for around ₹ 1,300 crore.

The Navy plans to deploy these deadly drones on its large-size warships for surveillance and reconnaissance in the country’s areas of interest from Madagascar to Malacca Straits and beyond.

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The urgency to buy these deadly drones has been felt during prolonged stand-offs with China in eastern Ladakh. Early last year India conveyed to the US its interest in the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) armed Predator-B drone, which not only collects intelligence but also locates and destroys the target with missiles or laser-guided bombs.

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India currently operates Israeli Heron unarmed drones in eastern Ladakh. China not only uses armed drone but is also keen to supplying two systems to Pakistan. Hindustan Times has reported that Pakistan is also tying up with China to jointly produce 48 armed drones for use by the Pakistan Air Force. The GJ-2, military version of Wing Loong II, is said to be armed with 12 air-to-surface missiles and is currently being used in the Libyan civil war with limited success.

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Media reports said the Indian Army is all in favour of the Predator-B. Also called the MQ-9 Reaper, the armed drone is battle-proven in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria with the capability of carrying four Hell-Fire missiles and two 500 pounds of laser-guided bombs.

The reports of India deciding to seal the deal with US comes days ahead of the visit of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin later this month. His visit could be a precursor to the meeting of the ‘Quad’ leaders — US, India, Australia and Japan.

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