India will acquire MQ 9B drones from US in phased manner, weapons to be procured in phase II

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The acquisition, worth $3 billion, through US foreign military sales, or the government-to-government route will get a green light during PM Modi’s US visit. India’s acquisition of 31 high altitude long endurance (HALE) drones from US will be a phased exercise involving initial absorption of technology, people familiar with the matter said, with the first batch of 10 drones being without weapons, and the creation of three tri-service intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance command centres, one in the south and two in the north with specific focus on India’s northern boundaries, especially the one with China

While both India and US are poised to take an orbital leap in bilateral ties, the first consignment of drones will be limited to 10 in number with weapons and missiles following at a later stage. However, all the drones will have hardpoints or the capability to carry missiles and laser guided bombs, the people familiar with the matter said.

The Narendra Modi government will not buy all the drones and the weapons off the shelf, with the deal will having an element of localization in the package, through which Indian built munition can also be fitted on to the drones. HT learns that acquisition of missiles and bombs for the drones will be step two of the entire deal as not all of the drones need to be armed. It is also possible that not all drones will be made in US, the people added, asking not to be named.

India operates two Sea Guardian drones on lease from manufacturer General Atomics from INS Rajali in Tamil Nadu, and the military has firsthand experience of handling a HALE drone with 40-hour endurance. The Indian Navy is satisfied with the performance of leased drones, which provide realtime maritime domain awareness from Southeast Asia to Africa.

Both Sea Guardian and Sky Guardian can conduct over-the-horizon targeting, anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, airborne mine countermeasures, long range strategic surveillance, electronic warfare, defensive counter air, airborne early warning and can also help in law enforcement, humanitarian disaster relief along with search and rescue missions.

All the 31 drones will be operating under a tri-service command and will not be equally distributed, the people said. The mission specific roles will be defined by the three operational centers under the guidance of the future theatre commanders and the permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee.


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