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US Air Force and Indian Air Force join to develop drones

An MQ-Reaper drone remotely piloted aircraft flies over Creech Air Force Base, Nev., June 25, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cory D. Payne)
July 29, 2020

On Tuesday, July 21, during “Ideas for India Summit” hosted by the U.S.-India Business Council, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ellen M. Lord announced the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory had begun negotiating with the Indian Air Force (IAF), India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and an Indian startup company for the two countries to begin joint Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) development. reported the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s negotiations with the Indian military. The potential joint UAV development plan comes amid heightened Indian interest in building up its drone fleet, but that has been slowed by lengthy procurement times.

“I would like to emphasize a very interesting project that we are currently negotiating – the joint development of a UAV launched from the air with the research laboratories of the US Air Force, Indian Air Force, Defense Research and Development Organization of India and an Indian startup company,” Lord said during the summit.

The reported joint drone development plan comes amid IAF plans to buy American MQ-9 Reaper/”Predator-B” drones, designed for reconnaissance and airstrikes. The Indian Army previously expressed interest in purchasing the armed U.S. drones in 2019, but has yet to go through with the purchase.

Ongoing tension with Chinese forces in the eastern Ladakh border region has raised India’s interest in obtaining combat-capable drones and India has again begun to look to the U.S.

In addition to armed Predator-B variant drones, the U.S. has also offered a 30 Sea Guardian UAVs at a cost of $4 billion. The Sea Guardian is an unarmed variant of the MQ-9 Reaper. There is some reported U.S. concern about providing combat-capable UAVs to other countries, like China, as Russia is another of India’s strategic allies and there are concerns about classified drone technology being leaked.

The IAF was also interested in acquiring 100 of General Atomics Avenger drones, a stealth capable drone variant still under development.

A plan for joint drone development by the U.S. and India may help to overcome some of the concerns about shared technology, while expanding the strategic partnership between the U.S. and India.

UAVs are a key area of interest to the Indian armed forces and expanded drone capabilities may help its military maintain real-time data from the ground while minimizing manpower costs. Beyond military applications, the drones may also be used in humanitarian operations.