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In a first, India leases two high-tech surveillance drones from the US

A MQ-9 Reaper US military unmanned aerial vehicle prepares to land after a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Air Force)
November 28, 2020

The Indian Navy has leased a pair of MQ-9B SeaGuardian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from the United States to boost its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities as per a report by Hindustan Times. The one-year lease comes as a procurement deal is in the long pipeline of negotiations due to budget constraints.

Indian Navy took charge of operating drones in early November after the U.S. transferred them. It is the first major military hardware lease since India passed the Defence Acquisition Procedure-2020, allowing the military to lease weapons systems for the first time ever.

The drones are the state of art B variant of U.S. General Atomics’ MQ-9. They are capable of operating at 40,000-ft. altitude with the endurance of 30 hours at 5,000 nautical miles.

The drones will be based on Naval Air Station Rajali in Tamil Nadu, which is also home to the Indian fleet of P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft under the southern command of the Indian Navy.

These drones are considered an important step for India to finalize its plans to procure additional drones in large numbers in the next year. India plans to spend $4 billion on 30 drones, some of which will be armed.

Retired Rear Admiral Sudarshan Shrikhande called the drones “quite critical,” adding that “Most drones are very useful operationally and could also be cost-effective platforms for maritime surveillance.”

With the tandem of usage from both MQ-9 drones and as well as P-8I, the Indian Navy is capable of improved surveillance in deep waters of the Indian Ocean Region and can keep a keen eye on China. Chinese military movement is a major concern for India since China sparked a military standoff and confrontation with Indian Army on Line of Actual Control at East Ladakh Province. The recent violent conflict has been the bloodiest the region has ever seen since the last conflict both nations had in the late 1980s.