US clears sale of MQ-9B combat drones to India

US clears sale of MQ-9B combat drones to India

Last year in June (, following a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian government cleared a deal with the United States for the purchase of 22 MQ-9A Guardian surveillance drones, to be used for reconnaissance in the Indian Ocean (as both the US and India have an interest in Chinese presence in those waters).

Yesterday, the Indian government announced a second, different, purchase, to the tune of two to three billion USD, this time for another variant of the MQ-9; the MQ9-B Reaper, a combat drone intended for multipurpose use. This purchase is significant in that it represents a direct-combat aircraft rather than a surveillance platform like the last purchase of drones from the US. The Reaper can be equipped with air-to-land and air-to-sea missiles, as well as guided bombs, and can come in both land and sea variants depending on its intended operating environment The speculated use for these drones is likely surveillance and patrols over the Indian borders with China and Pakistan.

Allegedly, the need for the Reaper drones is one of operational simplicity and cost-effectiveness-an Indian government official, who asked to not be named, told the Hindustan Times that: “Purchase of the Guardian drone through government to government route did not make sense as even if the unarmed drone identifies a hostile target over Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal or Arabian Sea, it will have to request for Boeing P-8I Neptune to destroy the target. The time lag and effort is not worth the while. The Indian need is an armed drone which not only locates but hunts down the target.”

This need should be met by the MQ-9B, as it is both armed and capable of fairly long loiter times of 14 hours. The Indian government has not yet agreed to purchase the drones, but a decision is likely to be made later this month, during the much-postponed two-plus-two dialogue between Indian ministers Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs, and Nirmala Sitharaman Minister of Defence, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis.

Adam Mortimer