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India is poised to finalize a deal for 31 MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from the US, a move that bolsters its maritime surveillance capabilities but raises questions about its future drone strategy. While the MQ-9B’s features impress military planners, some experts doubt its effectiveness in contested airspace.

Indian Air Force (IAF) officials, speaking to, expressed concerns about the MQ-9B’s vulnerability in hostile environments. This aligns with India’s long-term ambition of developing its own High-Altitude Long-Endurance (HALE) UAV program, particularly a stealthy version capable of operating in contested airspace.

The proposed HALE UAV wouldn’t just be fast and high-flying. HAL envisions it equipped with reduced radar signature (RCS) technology, making it harder to detect. The platform’s offensive capabilities are also being considered, with potential payloads including precision-guided weapons, anti-radiation missiles, and electronic warfare systems.

Developing a domestic HALE UAV program aligns with India’s push for self-reliance in defence technology. A successful program could provide the IAF with a strategic advantage in contested environments, allowing for long-range reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and potentially even offensive operations.

While the Sea Guardian deal fills immediate needs, it’s clear that India has its sights set on developing indigenous HALE UAV solutions for both contested and uncontested environments. The jet-powered stealthy UAV and HAL’s HALE UAV proposals represent India’s ambition to join the ranks of nations with advanced drone technology. The success of these programs will be crucial in determining the future of India’s aerial surveillance and combat capabilities.

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