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31 US Predator Drones for $3.99Bln: Are They Really Worth It For India?

© AP Photo / Michael SohnMQ9 Predator drone
MQ9 Predator drone - Sputnik India, 1920, 02.02.2024
The US State Department has approved the possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of 31 MQ-9B ‘Reaper’ drones and related equipment to India, a U.S. statement said on Thursday.
A statement from the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency stated on Thursday that the required certification notifying the US Congress of the possible drone sale to India was delivered the same day.

Washington has said that the proposed drone sale would “support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to strengthen the US-Indian strategic relationship”, according to a statement.

On India’s side, the tri-service drone deal was approved by the Defence Acquisition Council ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US last June. A final call, however, has to be made by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which is chaired by Prime Minister Modi.
Of the 31 High Endurance Long Altitude (HALE) drones, fifteen would be inducted into the Indian Navy, while the Army and the Air Force will get eight each of the land-variant of the drones, as per reports citing Indian military officials.

US Drones Costly, Not Suited for Indian Operational Needs, Analyst Says

Pravin Sawhney, a strategic affairs expert and an Indian author, told Sputnik India that the $4 billon price tag on the 31 drones was too expensive as far as their potential utility for India was concerned.

“The Indian military requires a variety of drones at an affordable cost and more loiter ammunition to meet its operational readiness needs,” Sawhney underscored.

He warned that an average speed of 220 kilometres per hour of the Predators would make them an “easy target, more so at the heavily militarised land borders”.
Sawhney also pointed out that MQ-9B drones would require a significant number of pilots to operate them as well as support staff to “monitor and analyse” the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) feed.
Importantly, Sawhney stated that the drone deal wasn’t in line with India’s policy of encouraging domestic defence manufacturing under ‘Make in India’ as it didn’t involve transfer of technology to New Delhi.
“There will be no transfer of technology. General Atomics will only be setting-up a Maintenance, Repairing and Operational (MRO) centre in India for the Predators,” he reckoned, citing the India-US Joint Statement last June announcing that the MQ-9Bs will only be assembled in India.

“The drone deal isn't worth it as far as India's primary security interests are concerned. Our main security threats like at the land border rather than in the maritime domain,” Sawhney asserted.

‘Predator Drone Deal Serve American Interests More than India’s’

Importantly, Sawhney contended that the drone deal would “primarily serve the requirements of Americans and the Quad grouping rather than India's immediate security interests”.

“India's primary security interests lie at the eastern and western land frontiers, rather than at its maritime vicinity. It is the borders where the military lines of communications are situated," explained Sawhney.

He underscored that Washington, as part of its Indo-Pacific Strategy, wanted India to don the role of “ensuring Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
“To ensure MDA, we have an Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) set-up in Gurugram on the outskirts of Delhi. Ideally, the ISR feed from the Predator drones would come to Gurugram where around western 'liaison' officers are posted. It will be primarily left to the American liaison officers as to who would access the drone feed spelling out the situational awareness,” Sawhney said.
MQ-9B SeaGuardian - Sputnik India, 1920, 25.06.2023
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India to 'Negotiate' $3 Bln Price Tag For MQ-9B Drone Deal With US
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