With eye on China-Pakistan, India ready to buy 30 armed drones from United States

Photo: A General Atomics’ MQ9 drone.

New Delhi: With an eye on China and Pakistan, India is all set to place an order for 30 armed drones for nearly $3 billion from the United States, in a deal that will be the first for American firm General Atomics from the South Asian giant.

Indian-American Vivek Lall had earlier this year joined General Atomics Global Corporation as its Chief Executive and has previously had a stint with the company when the push for the armed drones sale to India happened.

A proposal for according the Acceptance of Necessity — a defence jargon for approvals to initiate the procurement process — for the 30 MQ-9B Guardian drones from the General Atomics stable for Rs 22,000 crore ($3 billion) has gathered pace in the Ministry of Defence, according to an India Today report.

In the initial lot, India is said to be clearing the way for buying right off-the-shelf six of the Medium Altitude Long Endurance drones, of which two each will go to the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, indicating an urgency in the procurement, the report said.

The coming Defence Acquisition Council meeting, to be chaired by Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh, will take up on its agenda the proposal to buy these 30 Guardian drones. Once the approval is accorded by the Indian defence ministry’s highest procurement decision-making body, two separate contracts would be signed for the 30 Guardian drones, it said.

The first contract would be for the six drones to be valued around $600 million or Rs 4,400 crore, and to be delivered within the next few months, as the purchase would be done outright. The second contract for the remaining 24 drones, of which eight each would go to the three Indian armed forces, shall be signed in the next three years as an ‘option’ clause in the first contract at the same price for each drone.

India had first expressed its interest in these General Atomics armed drones in 2015, and the procurement has been in the works since then. First, it was being processed as the purchase of 22 Sea Guardians for the Indian Navy till 2017 and was later converted into an acquisition for all three services, since the requirement was the same.

Since then, the United States has approved the sale of these armed drones to India. This could actually be the last defence sale made by the Donald Trump administration before it heads into the presidential election in the US in November this year, the report said.

The MQ-9 can carry electro-optical or infra-red multi-mode radar and multi-mode maritime surveillance radar, laser designators, electronic support measures and various weapons packages.

It can form a deadly combination with two other US-supplied platforms -— the Boeing Co. P8-I Poseidon long range maritime patrol aircraft and the Lockheed Martin Corp. MH-60R multi-role helicopters -— to track and hunt surface ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean Region.

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