India is keen on buying 31 high-end Predator drones (also called MQ-9B drones or Reapers) from the United States. These cutting edge aerial vehicles are quite expensive and the deal may cost over US $3 billion. Yet, the Indian security establishment thinks they are worth it. Here’s why.
China, which has emerged as India’s No. 1 adversary, has been frequently trying to change the status quo of the Line of Actual Control, also called the LAC. This summer, it will be four years since the standoff between Indian and Chinese troops began in Eastern Ladakh. Some of the friction points have not yet been resolved.
These sophisticated UAVs can boost India’s surveillance systems along the LAC and in the Indian Ocean. They can also keep a tab on the activities of Chinese vessels that claim to do marine research but also double up as spy ships.
So what make the Predator drones special? They are the latest from the stable of General Atomics, an American company.
These all-weather drones which can operate day and night come in two variants—Sky Guardian and Sea Guardian, one meant for land and the other customized for the maritime domains. India wants a mix of both.
The India Navy took two Sea Guardians on lease nearly four years ago and was so satisfied with their performance that the lease period was extended.
These can remain airborne beyond a day, some reports suggest 40 hours. So they are particularly useful for long-range surveillance.
These machines can automatically take off and land. They can fly at altitudes over 40,000 feet, which is particularly helpful in India’s mountainous regions bordering China. And the UAVs can carry payloads in excess of 5000 kilograms. These drones, which are controlled from the ground, can play a crucial role in anti-submarine warfare, electronic welfare and also in expeditions.
They also have strike capabilities. Rewind to January 2020 when Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was killed near Baghdad airport.