Two American predator drones are inducted in the Indian Navy under emergency procurement powers granted by Defence Ministry due to the India-China border conflict.

Indian Navy predator drones
Representative image of Predator drone. Credit: Wikimedia Commons Photo

Amid the ongoing border standoff with China and as an indication of growing proximity between India and the United States, the Indian Navy has inducted two Predator drones from an American firm on lease for carrying out surveillance in the Indian Ocean Region. According to the reports, the leased drones can also be deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh.

The two American-leased drones – Sea Guardian, unarmed version of the deadly Predator series – are introduced by the Indian Navy as part of the emergency procurement powers granted by the Defence Ministry in view of the ongoing tensions between India and China in Ladakh.

“The drones arrived in India in the second week of November and were inducted into flying operations on November 21 at Indian Navy base at INS Rajali,” a senior government officer in the know said.

The drones have already begun flying operations in Indian colours and have the endurance functionality of being in the air for over 30 hours. It is being believed that the induction of drones will prove to be a giant asset for India reinforcing the strength of India’s maritime forces.

The Sea Guardians are flying with the Indian Navy logo and are under the full operational control of the force. The Navy will have exclusive access to all the information that the drone will capture. The two drones will be flown by Indian Navy personnel and all the data acquired by the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) will be the sole property of India.

American firm will ensure the availability of drones:

The drones, MQ-9 Guardian/Predator-B, have been leased from an American firm, General Atomics, for a year. According to the reports and information available, the only role of the American firm is to ensure the availability of the two drones based on the contract signed.

Along with the Predator drones, an American crew from the vendor have also come along as part of the deal to help the Indian Navy carry out smooth operation of the machines and will be responsible for doing the maintenance work for the two drones.

Drones on lease for a year:

The predator drones are on lease with India for one year. As per the reports, the three services of the Indian Armed forces are preparing for acquiring 18 more such drones from the United States. In an indication of rising closeness between New Delhi and Washington, the two countries are working jointly to ward off Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh, and other areas by collaborating via surveillance, defence cooperation, and information sharing in all domains.

The option of leasing weapon systems has been provisioned under the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 and the Defence Procurement Manual 2009 which provides an economical way to acquire the advance weaponry. In addition to this, even the maintenance of the system relies solely on the vendor.

The two predator drones are the first defence system that has been taken on lease under the new Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 introduced this year as it allows the military to lease platforms and weapon systems which is aimed at saving valuable resources. Under the agreement, the American support staff will help only with the maintenance of the leased drones while sorties and joystick will be in control of the Indian Navy personnel.

Competence of the predator drones:

The drones have already started operations and have an endurance of over 30 hours. The drones can stay airborne for about 36 hours and can cruise up to a height of 40,000 feet that could also be used for surveillance along India’s land borders including Ladakh where Indian and Chinese troops have been engaged in a confrontation since May.  

The Predator drones are well-known for their aerial reconnaissance and forward observation roles. They carry a camera and other sensors that provide crucial information about the adversary’s movements and military strategy. The predator drones are armed with missiles and can carry out multi-role version for armed reconnaissance. The drones are also equipped to carry missiles.

It is being believed that these predator drones will be helpful for the armed forces as they possess both surveillance and attack capabilities.