A week after India allowed the US to use its Army, Air Force and Naval bases for military purposes, Washington has announced that it will export 22 unarmed high-tech multi-mission Predator Guardian drones to the South Asian powerhouse.
A senior US Defence Department official has confirmed the news, saying that India will use the Predator Guardian drones mainly for maritime surveillance in the Indian Ocean. The official, who wished to remain anonymous, described India as the US’ “major defence partner” in Asia, stressing that New Delhi had sent a request to the Barrack Obama administration in this regard in June. Later, the Defence Department received an official Letter of Request (LoR) from the Indian Navy in which it was clearly stated that the Indian naval forces were eager to purchase 22 Predator Guardian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Although the US government is yet to make a formal decision on the sale, it is ready to begin an inter agency process on the Indian request. The Obama administration hopes that such a major military sale will help strengthen bilateral defence ties.
The Predator Guardian UAVs, manufactured by General Atomics, would act as a force multiplier for India’s maritime surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region, as they have cutting-edge technologies that do not exist in the current Indian Navy arsenal. The drone can fly for 24 hours without refuelling and also operate at 50,000ft altitude (while modern passenger aircraft cruise at 35,000-45,000ft).
According to sources close to the Defence Department, the supply of Guardian drones to India will not only bring in “a new level of comfort” between the two militaries, but also allow the US to monitor Chinese activities in the Asia-Pacific region with India’s help.
The American defence experts, too, consider the sale of Predator Guardian UAVs as a force multiplier for India’s maritime surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean. Since signing the ‘Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement’ (LEMOA) with India on August 29, America has hinted that one of its key objectives in the Asia Pacific region is to counter the Chinese aggression with strong Indo-US defence co-operation.
During his recent visit to New Delhi, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter assured Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that the South Asian nation would soon receive all the 22 Guardian UAVs for fulfilling its maritime surveillance requirements.
Currently, India operates a variety of drones, from hand-launched models to Israeli-origin Herons. With the exception of the Harpy that can be used as a suicide bomber since it self-destructs on impact with a chosen target, all are battlefield and theatre surveillance craft. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is close to completing development of an armed drone, called Rustom, which will be armed with missiles.
As far as neighbouring Pakistan is concerned, it has recently developed its first armed drone, “The Burraq”, with Chinese assistance. The Burraq fires a locally-developed air-to-surface missile, called the “Barq”, and has been used in counter-terror operations.