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India is poised to take a significant leap in its unmanned aerial capabilities with the expected conclusion of a deal with General Atomics for the acquisition of 31 MQ-9B Predator drones. Estimated to cost around $3.5 billion, this deal is set to be finalized by the end of November this year, with deliveries commencing from the end of 2025 onwards.

The proposed deal outlines the induction of 15 Sea Guardians into the Navy, and eight Sky Guardians each into the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force. The MQ-9B Reaper drones, also known as Sea Guardians and Sky Guardians, are high-altitude long-endurance drones equipped with strike missiles capable of eliminating enemy targets with precision.

The letter of request (LoR) for the 31 MQ-9B drones was sent to the US government in early July following the approval of the defence acquisitions council led by Rajnath Singh, which accorded acceptance of the necessity for the deal on June 15.

India has set its sights on achieving an indigenous content of approximately 15-20 per cent in the drone. General Atomics plans to collaborate with Bharat Forge to manufacture aerostructures of the drone within India, enhancing the country’s domestic production capabilities. Additionally, plans are underway to establish a Performance Based Depot Level Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) and Sea Guardian Global Sustainment Support (SGSS) within India.

The MQ-9B Reaper drones are versatile assets with nine hardpoints, allowing for a maximum external payload capacity of 2155 kg. This design flexibility enables armed forces and governments to integrate sovereign payloads and mission systems, tailoring the drones for specific operational needs.

The acquisition of the MQ-9B Predator drones holds immense strategic value for India. Apart from their strike capabilities, these drones will be instrumental in bolstering long-range surveillance along the nation’s borders and maritime areas. Equipped with air-to-ground missiles and smart bombs, the drones offer precise long-range strike capabilities, enhancing India’s tactical advantage in various operational scenarios.

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