The “hunterkiller” MQ9B Reaper or PredatorB drones, designed to fly for around 40 hours at altitudes over 40,000 feet for surveillance missions, and armed with Hellfire airtoground missiles and smart bombs for precision strikes, are far superior to China’s existing armed drones.
China, incidentally, has also been supplying its armed Cai Hong4 and Wing LoongII drones to Pakistan. “The actionable LoR (letter of request) for the 31 MQ9B drones will be sent to the US government in the first week of July. This comes after the Rajnath Singhled Defence Acquisitions Council accorded the AoN (acceptance of necessity) for the deal on June 15,” a top defence ministry officer said on Saturday.
The intergovernmental deal for the 31 drones — 15 Sea Guardians for Navy and eight Sky Guardians each for Army and Air Force with their associated mobile ground control systems, weapons and other equipment — is estimated to be worth around $3.5 billion (almost Rs 29,000 crore).
Under the deal, the high-altitude, longendurance (HALE) drones will be assembled in India. Manufacturer Global Atomics will also set up a “costeffective and comprehensive global maintenance, repair and overhaul facility” in India, which can cater to other countries like Australia and Japan as well.
The US government will respond to India’s LoR with a LoA (letter of acceptance) with the final costing and the requisite notification to the US Congress under its foreign military sales programme. “A lot of the technical-commercial discussions have already taken place. The contract will be inked after the final nod from our Cabinet Committee on Security,” the officer said.
Though it will depend on General Atomics’ production capacity, India hopes to induct the first 10 MQ9B drones within one to two years of the contract being inked. The rest will come in batches every six months.
With nine ‘hard points’ to carry missiles and smart bombs, the drones will bolster India’s longrange over the horizon ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and strike capabilities, both in the Indian Ocean Region as well as the land frontiers with China and Pakistan.
The plan is to deploy the drones at three triservice ISR command and control centres in northwest, northeast and southIndia. The MQ9B deal is also expected to help DRDO eventually develop indigenous armed HALE drones capable of firing missiles and precision-guided munitions on enemy targets before returning to their home bases to re-arm for their next mission like manned fighter jets.