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India’s pursuit of stealth unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) has faced obstacles in recent years, particularly concerning the acquisition of US-made Predator C “Avenger” drones. Despite India’s interest in purchasing these advanced drones, concerns from the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the US Congress have posed challenges to the sale.

However, recent developments, such as the procurement of MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAVs from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, may change India’s stance on acquiring stealth UCAVs, signaling a potential shift in its capabilities and strategic priorities.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has long expressed its interest in acquiring stealth UCAVs, recognizing their significance for enhancing deep strike capabilities and bolstering the country’s defence capabilities. In 2017, India expressed its desire to purchase 40 Predator C “Avenger” drones. However, concerns from the MTCR and the US Congress regarding the export of UCAVs to foreign countries hindered the progress of the sale. While General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Avenger, was keen on exporting the UCAVs, the obstacles posed by regulatory bodies and the political climate made the sale uncertain.

The recent deal for 31 MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAVs from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has reignited the possibility of India operating stealth UCAVs. Insiders familiar with the matter believe that the IAF remains interested in stealth UCAVs and might reconsider the Avenger if offered the opportunity.

While India seeks to acquire stealth UCAVs from foreign manufacturers, it is also working on its indigenous programs. The Ghattak UCAV program, with capabilities surpassing the Avenger UCAV, is under development. Additionally, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is working on the CATS Hunter, a 1-ton loyal wingman program, as well as a 2-ton deep strike UCAV. However, these programs are still in the early stages and will likely take several more years to materialize and enter production.

The General Atomics Avenger, formerly known as Predator C, is a developmental unmanned combat air vehicle designed for the US military. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PW545B turbofan engine, it can achieve a maximum speed of 740 km/h and operate at a service ceiling of 15,240 meters. The Avenger has an impressive endurance of 18 hours, enabling extended missions and reconnaissance capabilities.

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