India has made a planned purchase of 31 reaper drones- MQ-9B from a company called General Atomic in the United States. The deal was announced during Modi’s visit to the United States.
The Ministry of Defense in India has stated the value is 3 billion dollars. We do not know how the three billion dollars would be split up. Besides the value of the drones, there is the value of the ground station as well. At the moment, it seems, India is mainly planning to use these drones for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) and also anti-submarine warfare, and maritime domain awareness. Having drones in the sky which do not require pilots and can stay up to 40 hours, is a huge upper hand for India’s security.
The earlier version of these drones- the sea guardians- were used by the Indian Navy on Lease after the 2020 defense acquisition amendment. The two drones procured on lease as of today have completed 10,000 flying hours and the Indian Navy heavily relies on them. The earlier version was called the Predator which has a piston engine of 115 horsepower. The new version is called the Reaper has a turboprop engine with 950 horsepower and to a certain extent a much more weapon-carrying ability. The Navy has been one of the biggest enthusiasts of these drones particularly to keep an eye on the vast expense of the seas. Of the 31 drones procures, 15 will go to the Indian Navy and 8 each will go to the Army and Air Force. This division highlights India’s old habit of penny-pocketing weapons to the three forces of the Army. The lack of joint manship in the army is the cause.
The countries that are already using these drones are the Nato Allies, Dominican Republic, and needless to say the United States. The United States owns around 300 of these drones and has used them in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and Libya. They have also lost about 38 drones shot by Libyan forces using Russian tanks implying these drones aren’t infallible and can be brought down by the enemy. These aren’t very maneuverable either, they only have one turboprop engine, and they have insufficient autonomy as they have to be controlled from the ground. These limitations have drawn criticism from military experts. The chances of survival of a large drown if flown into a foreign territory such as Pakistan or China is bleak for it can be detected immediately. This can be the explanation for why the armed forces aren’t putting too much money into the armed version of these drones. It is only the Navy who are interested in the armed version of these drones for submarine hunting in which these drones have a proven capability. They may also equip the current drones for hunter-killings.
On the political front, this deal is being criticized by the Congress. Congress alleged the PM of purchasing the drones at an inflated price and without the clearance of cabinet security. The Congress further demanded ‘complete transparency in the deal. Congress even accused PM of jeopardizing the national interest.