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India Set to Purchase 31- MQ-9B Armed Drones from US in $4 Billion Deal

India has cleared the first hurdle in acquiring 31 MQ-9B armed drones from the US, a deal that will enhance its surveillance and strike capabilities across land and sea domains. The US State Department has approved the sale of the drones and related equipment to India for an estimated cost of $3.99 billion (Rs 33,060 crore).

MQ-9B Armed Drone (Sky Guardian)

The MQ-9B, also known as the Predator B or the Sea Guardian, is a long-endurance, medium-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can perform intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike missions. It can fly for over 40 hours at a maximum altitude of 40,000 feet, and carry a payload of up to 2,155 kg, including missiles, bombs and sensors.

The deal was announced during the historic visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US in June 2023, when he met President Joe Biden and discussed ways to deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries. The acquisition of the drones is seen as a key element of the US-India defence cooperation, as well as a response to the growing challenges posed by China in the Indo-Pacific region.

What comes with Predator Drones (MQ 9B) ?

According to the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the US government agency that oversees foreign military sales, India will get 15 Sea Guardian drones for the Navy, and eight each of the land version, Sky Guardian, for the Army and the Air Force. The package also includes 66 Raytheon Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems, 36 AN/APY-8 Lynx Block 20A Synthetic Aperture Radars, 156 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles, 30 GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs, and 14 mobile ground control stations.

Fire Power of MQ-9B Sea Guardian Drones

The DSCA said that the proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the US by helping to strengthen the US-India strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defence partner. It also said that the sale will improve India capability to meet current and future threats by enabling unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in sea lanes of operation.

Why India Procure this Drones ?

India is procuring the drones to bolster its defence capabilities along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and also for Line of Control (LOC), where the two countries have been locked in a tense standoff since May 2020. The drones will also enhance India’s maritime domain awareness in the Indian Ocean, where China has been expanding its naval presence and influence in the Indian Ocean and India’s neighboring countries under his String of Pearl Program. And in the same way India is preparing for Nacklace of Diamond policy for China to counter her program.

The MQ-9B drones are compatible with the Indian Navy’s P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, which are also procured from the US. The drones and the aircraft can share data and imagery in real time, creating a networked maritime surveillance system. The drones can also operate from aircraft carriers and other naval platforms, providing flexibility and reach to the Indian Navy.

When India & USA finalised this deal

The deal is expected to be finalised in the next few months, after the US Congress approves it and the two countries sign a letter of agreement and the delivery of the drones will take place in three to four years.

The acquisition of the MQ-9B drones will mark a significant milestone for India’s defence modernisation and its strategic partnership with the US. The drones will provide India with a cutting-edge capability to monitor and deter threats from land and sea, and to project power and influence in the region.

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