MQ-9 Reaper UAV: India set to acquire six most feared USAF drone in the world
Amid border tensions with China, India has also fast-tracked procurement of six Predator-B armed drones. India is already using the P-8I naval patrol planes for conducting surveillance missions over the Indian Ocean as well as eastern Ladakh.
The Reaper drone, developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remotely controlled or autonomous flight operations. According to the US Air Force, the MQ-9 Reaper is an “armed, multi-mission, medium altitude, long-endurance” aircraft primarily designed for offensive strikes.
With a wingspan of 66 feet and the capability to cruise at roughly 230 mph (482 kph), the UAV can also conduct surveillance, and assist in search and rescue missions. An improvement over its predecessor, the MQ-1 Predator, in terms of size and robustness, Reaper drones have become the reliant carrier for launch munitions in order to annihilate targets. The US Air Force is in possession of 93 units of the Reaper drones.
India’s tryst with Reaper drones began way back in 2016—when news regarding India’s planned acquisition of Reapers first surfaced. Initially, India’s intention was to acquire 22 naval variants of the Predator B drone, called the Sea Guardian, for the Indian Navy. In 2019, a report in the Breaking Defense website claimed that the Pentagon and Indian Ministry of Defence were working together to “tailor” standardized versions of the Predator B Reaper drone for use by all three armed services. The Reaper drones could be the new addition to the line of drones operated by the Indian Army, which includes the Israeli Harop attack drone and the Heron surveillance drone.
The induction of these drones and missiles into the Indian military, both systems being in line with the latest technological advancements in warfare and combat, signifies India’s progress towards modernising its military capabilities.
While the US defence contractors were restricted by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) UAS clause, the Chinese have been supplying Wing Loong armed drones to Pakistan and for use in the Yemen and Libyan civil war. According to intelligence reports, China has already supplied four Wing Loong armed drones to Pakistan for protection of the CPEC and Gwadar port. The drone, which has a limited track record, carries more than 1,000 kilograms of bombs or air-to-surface missiles. Neither China nor Pakistan are members of the MTCR, hence there is no restriction on Beijing to export these systems to Islamabad.
It is the introduction of Wing Loong into the Indian sub-continent which has prompted India to relook the acquisition of Predator-B drone, proven in Afghan and Iraq theatre, for the Indian military. The Predator-B is the armed version of Guardian drone, twenty-two of which have been approved for sale to India by the Trump administration. Predator B can carry four Hell-fire missiles and two 500-pound laser-guided bombs.
By tweaking the MTCR rules for UAS, President Trump has opened doors for India to acquire the armed drones as well as systems to counter them. The armed drones will also be available to US allies like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt who have acquired the Chinese armed drones.
As the cost of a Predator-B drone is no less than a fighter aircraft, the Indian Air Force may have to reduce its limit of manned fighters to create squadrons of armed drones within the present Cabinet sanction of 42 squadrons.
Source:- Times Now, The Week