India is at an advanced stage of negotiations with the US to purchase 30 MQ-9B Predator-armed drones at a cost of more than $3 billion to extend its overall surveillance apparatus along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and in the Indian Ocean, people familiar with the development said Sunday.
The long-lived drones, Hunters and Assassins, are acquired for the three services, as they can perform a variety of roles, including maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, over-the-horizon targeting, and hitting stationary ground targets.
The MQ-9B drone is a variant of MQ-9 “Reaper” that was reportedly used to fire a modified version of the Hellfire missile that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri last month. from Kabul.
Authoritative sources in the defense institute said talks are underway between New Delhi and Washington for the government purchase of the drones manufactured by US defense major General Atomics, rejecting reports that the deal is off the table.
dr. Vivek Lall, the Chief Executive of the General Atomics Global Corporation, told PTI that the acquisition program is at an advanced stage of talks between the two governments.
“We understand that the MQ-9B acquisition program is at an advanced stage of discussions between the US and Indian governments,” he said.
“Any questions about those discussions should be directed specifically to the respective governments. From the company’s perspective, General Atomics stands ready to support India and appreciates our long-standing relationship,” Lall added.
The sources said the talks are aimed at resolving certain issues related to the cost component, weapons package and technology sharing.
It is learned that the tender proposal played a part in the fourth two-plus-two foreign affairs and defense ministerial dialogue between India and the US in Washington in April.
In 2020, the Indian Navy had leased two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from General Atomics for a one-year period for surveillance in the Indian Ocean. The rental period was then extended.
The Indian Navy has strengthened its surveillance mechanism to monitor growing Chinese activities, including frequent forays by PLA warships into the Indian Ocean.
When asked about the two drones, Lall said they performed “very well” and flew nearly 3,000 hours in support of the Indian Navy’s maritime and land border patrol objectives.
“General Atomics has supported India for the past three years by supplying two remotely piloted MQ-9 aircraft as part of a company/company-owned COCO lease agreement,” he said.
“In the past six months, nearly 3,000 hours have been flown in support of the Indian Navy’s maritime and land border patrol objectives, which cover more than 14 million square miles of operations area,” he said.
“Our Indian customer has been impressed with the MQ-9’s over-the-horizon ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) support for surface units and Indian warships, as well as the platform’s exceptional endurance and operational availability” , the CEO added.
The MQ-9Bs are designed not only to meet NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) standards, but also to meet the requirements of civilian airspace in the US and around the world, according to General Motors.
The procurement proposal has been moved by the Indian Navy and all three services are likely to get 10 drones each.
The remote-controlled drones can stay in the air for about 35 hours.
The medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone is the first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for long-range and high-altitude surveillance.
India’s armed forces have focused on purchasing unmanned platforms, including armed drones, following the stalemate in eastern Ladakh with China.
In 2019, the US approved the sale of armed drones to India and even offered integrated air and missile defense systems.
The Indian Navy has strongly pushed for the purchase to bolster its overall surveillance over the Indian Ocean, a region that has witnessed increasing incursions by Chinese ships and submarines in recent years.
In February 2020, India signed a $2.6 billion (one billion = 100 crores) deal with the US to purchase 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters from US aerospace major Lockheed Martin for the Indian Navy. The delivery of the helicopters has already started.
After the stalemate in eastern Ladakh, India has significantly stepped up its day and night surveillance over the LAC using a fleet of remotely piloted aircraft.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)