India And U.S. Close To Sealing MQ-9B Predator Drone Deal For Enhanced Defence Capabilities

The timing of these negotiations holds significance against the backdrop of emerging security challenges in the region. Like many other nations, India is navigating a complex security environment marked by evolving threats and geopolitical shifts.

India and the United States are in the process of finalizing a deal for the MQ-9B Predator drone, aiming to agree by early next year. The discussions between the two nations signify a collaborative effort to advance defence capabilities through the acquisition of these unmanned aerial vehicles.

India and the US signed the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement to further boost bilateral defence ties being the precursor of this event. The pact provides for the sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries. The geopolitical landscape has witnessed a growing emphasis on technological advancements in military operations, and the MQ-9B Predator drone is at the forefront of this evolution.

When asked about the finalisation of the deal during a media briefing, Llyod Austin, US defence secretary talked about the right time for the deal’s announcement.

“Well, again, you know, we’re — at the right time, we’ll announce the (deal). I think the government, the officials in the government are doing everything necessary to make sure that that capability… you (India) get that capability as quickly as possible,” he said.

The MQ-9B Predator

The MQ-9B Predator drone is renowned for its long endurance and wide-ranging capabilities. It can operate at high altitudes for extended periods of about 35 hours with 450 kilograms of ammunition and four hellfire missiles.

The timing of these negotiations holds significance against the backdrop of emerging security challenges in the region. Like many other nations, India is navigating a complex security environment marked by evolving threats and geopolitical shifts. The acquisition of advanced drones such as the MQ-9B Predator aligns with India’s efforts to modernize its defense infrastructure and stay abreast of contemporary security challenges.

The MQ-9B Predator drone is an advanced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) known for its versatility and reconnaissance capabilities. It has played a pivotal role in modern military operations, providing nations with enhanced surveillance and intelligence-gathering capabilities. The MQ-9 system comprises multiple aircraft, a ground control station, communication equipment, maintenance spares, and personnel. The military flight crew includes a pilot, sensor operator, and Mission Intelligence Coordinator. Powered by a 950 horsepower turboprop, the MQ-9 has a maximum speed of approximately 260 knots and a cruising speed of 150–170 knots. With a 66 ft wingspan and a maximum payload of 3,800 lb, it can carry various weaponry, including Hellfire missiles and 500 lb laser-guided bomb units. The drone’s endurance is 30 hours for ISR missions, reduced to 23 hours with a full weapons load. It has a range of 1,000 nautical miles and operates at an altitude of 50,000 ft, making it ideal for extended surveillance and ground troop support.

American aerospace major General Electric will also team up with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to produce jet engines for Indian military aircraft in India.

The Sea Guardian drone (a maritime version of the MQ-9B Predator) range covers around 1200 nautical miles with significant on-station time for submarine prosecution, providing a low-cost, stand-alone capability or a complement to human-crewed aircraft for manned-unmanned teaming operations. The Navy is supposed to get 15 of these Sea guardian drones and the Indian airforce and army are set to get 8 sky guardian drones. The drones have high capabilities ranging from anti-submarine warfare to over-the-horizon targeting.

The mission-specific roles will be under three operational centres. The future commanders and the chairman of the chief of staff committee will be appointed. The aim for the completion of the deal is by March next year.

The geopolitical implications of India acquiring the MQ-9B Predator drone extend beyond the immediate technological advantages. The UAV’s deployment would not only contribute to India’s defence capabilities but could also have broader implications for regional stability, especially along the line of actual control (LOR) with China.

However, the negotiation process for such advanced defence systems is intricate and involves considerations beyond technological specifications. Factors such as cost, training, maintenance, and compatibility with existing defence infrastructure play crucial roles in shaping the outcome of these agreements. The successful conclusion of the deal would require addressing these multifaceted aspects to ensure seamless integration of the MQ-9B Predator drone into India’s defence framework. The cost of this defence machinery is estimated around 3 billion US dollars.

Alternatives

If we take a look at the other alternatives for the MQ-9B predator drones, namely we have Chinese wing loong drones and the Israeli heron TP drones. Several articles, previously published by credible sources provide viable specifications which prove MQ-9B is more efficient, versatile and durable among the two. And for Israeli heron TP drones, in a deal of 2021, India has already leased 4 such drones.

Additionally, the acquisition of advanced military technology often sparks debates around sovereignty, privacy, and ethical considerations. Unmanned aerial vehicles raise concerns about the potential misuse of surveillance capabilities and the implications for privacy rights. As India moves forward with the potential acquisition of the MQ-9B Predator drone, it is essential to navigate these ethical considerations and establish robust frameworks to address concerns related to the responsible use of such technology.

Final Words

In conclusion, the ongoing negotiations between India and the United States for the MQ-9B Predator drone exemplify the depth of their strategic partnership and the collaborative approach to addressing contemporary security challenges. The potential acquisition of this advanced UAV holds implications for India’s defence capabilities, regional stability, and the broader dynamics of international defence cooperation. As the negotiations progress, careful consideration of technological, financial, ethical, and geopolitical factors will be crucial in shaping the outcome of this significant defence deal.