The Business Standard reports that India plans to buy 30 armed drones from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to boost its naval and land defenses as tensions persist with neighbors China and Pakistan. The Indian Armed Forces are set to acquire a total of 30 armed versions of the US-made MQ-9B MQ-9 Reaper drones in a deal estimated to be worth $3 billion. The news of the procurement of the modern drones comes after the Indian Navy had leased two MQ-9B Sea Guardian UAVs (a variant of Predator B) from the US last year. The Navy had taken the drones for a period of a year to boost its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities amid the border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh.
To further cement the deal, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to visit India later this month. India is becoming a strategic defence partner for the US, especially countering Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean. According to a statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs, which said they would discuss issues including supply chains, maritime security and climate change. Earlier, the deal for the 30 drones was on the cards under the Trump administration, however, India refused to succumb to the US’ constant push of concluding the deal. The approval to take these armed drones could be finalised during Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) meeting lead by Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (sometimes called Predator B) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remotely controlled or autonomous flight operations developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) primarily for the United States Air Force (USAF). The MQ-9 and other UAVs are referred to as Remotely Piloted Vehicles/Aircraft (RPV/RPA) by the USAF to indicate their human ground controllers. The MQ-9 is a larger, heavier, and more capable aircraft than the earlier General Atomics MQ-1 Predator; it can be controlled by the same ground systems used to control MQ-1s. The Reaper has a 950-shaft-horsepower (712 kW) turboprop engine (compared to the Predator’s 115 hp (86 kW) piston engine).
The MQ-9 is fitted with six stores pylons; the inner stores pylons can carry a maximum of 1,500 pounds (680 kg) each and allow carriage of external fuel tanks. The mid-wing stores pylons can carry a maximum of 600 pounds (270 kg) each, while the outer stores pylons can carry a maximum of 200 pounds (91 kg) each. An MQ-9 with two 1,000 pounds (450 kg) external fuel tanks and 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of munitions has an endurance of 42 hours. The Reaper has an endurance of 14 hours when fully loaded with munitions. The MQ-9 carries a variety of weapons including the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, the AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles, the AIM-9 Sidewinder, and the GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM)