The Indian defence ministry plans to acquire six MQ-9B Guardian drones from the United States - two each for the Army, Air Force and the Navy - for $600 million under fast track procurement.
New Delhi wants to invest $3 billion for 30 of these drones, sources told INDIA TODAY. Acceptance of Necessity for 30 drones will be put before an upcoming meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by defence minister Rajnath Singh.
While the first six drones are to be purchased outright and delivered in the next few months. These could possibly be units already produced for the US armed forces or its allies. It is not clear if the initial batch of drones will be armed with Hellfire missiles and other air-to-ground munitions.
Lockheed Martin is delivering three MH-60R gunships it built for the US Navy to India this year, as per the latter's urgent requirement.
The remaining 24—eight drones for each service—will be acquired over the next three years under an ‘option clause’ in the contract. The deal has been in the pipeline for the past three years, first as the sale of 22 Sea Guardians (an unarmed maritime variant of the MQ-9) for the Indian Navy in 2017. This was then converted into a tri-services acquisition by the government in 2018 when the armed version of the MQ-9 was cleared for sale to India by the US.
The MQ-9 can carry electro-optical / infra-red multi-mode radar and multi-mode maritime surveillance radar, laser designators, electronic support measures and various weapons packages. It can form a deadly combination with two other US-supplied platforms—the P8-I Poseidon long range maritime patrol aircraft and the (under delivery) MH-60R multi-role helicopters— to track and hunt surface ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean region.
“The MQ-9 is satellite-steered, can float above the target at 45,000 feet and stay on task for 35 hours, using radar and electronic support measures to locate the enemy—it could be anywhere, the Gulf of Aden or the Malacca Straits or in Eastern Ladakh,” a senior defence official said.