Washington: The US has approved the sale of 31 MQ-9B armed drones to India at an estimated cost of USD 3.99 billion, the American defence agency said. The drone deal was announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington in June last year.
“The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of India of MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of USD 3.99 billion,” the Defence Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement released on Thursday. The Agency said it has delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on Thursday.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to strengthen the US-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defence partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region,” the agency said.
“The proposed sale will improve India’s capability to meet current and future threats by enabling unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in sea lanes of operation,” it added.
India-US drone deal
Under the deal, India will get 31 High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs, of which the Navy will get 15 SeaGuardian drones, while the Army and the Indian Air Force will get eight each of the land version – SkyGuardian.
The major development came amid media reports that said Washington blocked the drone sale to India until New Delhi carried out a thorough probe into an Indian link to the failed plot to kill Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
Key points about deadly Predator armed drones:
- The deal holds significance as it was the same Predator drone that was used in killing al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden in 2011 and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul in July 2022.
- The MQ-9B drone is a variant of the MQ-9 “Reaper” which was used to launch a modified version of the Hellfire missile
- The drone can carry out a variety of roles including maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare and over-the-horizon targeting
- The MQ-9B drone has two variants — Sky Guardian and its sibling Sea Guardian
- The drone is the first hunter-killer unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for long-endurance and high-altitude surveillance
- The MQ-9B has signals intelligence and communications intelligence systems integrated onboard
- The Reapers can employ up to eight laser-guided missiles and Air-to-Ground Missile
- It can also be disassembled and loaded into a single container for deployment
- The MQ-9 drone is larger, heavier, more capable and can be controlled by the same ground systems.