India is considering purchasing multi-mission Predator Guardian unnamed patrol aircraft from U.S. defense contractor General Atomics, the Times of India has revealed.
New Delhi has expressed its desire to procure the U.S.-made unmanned aerial vehicles in a letter of request dispatched to the United States last week to officially begin the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process, according to unnamed sources.
The Indian military has previously expressed interest in the Predator Guardian UAV but allegedly was rebuffed by the United States since India was not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and also did not have the status of Major Defense Partner.
Now the situation has changed. As The Diplomat reported India became a member of MTRC in June 2016 and it was also granted Major Defense Partner status in the same month. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi allegedly raised the subject of drone purchases with U.S. President Barack Obama during an official state visit to the United States in June 2016.
“The United States will continue to work toward facilitating technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners,” a joint statement issued by Modi and Obama read. “The leaders reached an understanding under which India would receive license-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies in conjunction with steps that India has committed to take to advance its export control objectives.”
The joint statement also underlined both countries commitment to cooperate on maritime security issues. With the new UAVs, India seeks to protect its maritime assets, in particular in the Indian Ocean, and detect intrusions on a real-time basis. Next to the threat of terrorism emerging from the maritime domain, India has been in particular concerned about the growing Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean.
As I reported previously, India has repeatedly deployed its most advanced maritime patrol/anti-submarine warfare aircraft, the P-8I Neptune, on maritime patrol missions. It has also dispatched UAVs, including (Israeli) Searcher MK II drones, to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, located in the Indian Ocean, for example.
According to General Atomics, the Predator Guardian UAV, a variant of the Predator B, is capable of performing wide-area, long-endurance maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. It can stay in the air for up to 27 hours and can fly at maximum altitude of 50,000 feet (15240 meters).
“Twice as fast as Predator, the aircraft carries 500 percent more payload and has nine times the horsepower. It provides a long-endurance, persistent surveillance/strike capability for the war fighter,” the General Atomics company website notes.
A U.S. letter of acceptance in response to India’s letter of request is allegedly in the making. As of now, it is not known how many drones India intends to purchase. In November 2015, India has also expressed interest in procuring armed Predator Avenger UAVs. Overall, India intents to purchase over 250 new UAVs in the years ahead, according to industry sources. Between 1985 and 2014, India was the top importer of drones worldwide.