Source : Indian Defence Analysis
|American MQ-9 Reaper MALE UAV (Left) and Indian TAPAS BH-201 MALE UAV (Right)|
In November 2020, Indian Navy had leased two MQ-9 UAVs to enhance surveillance over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The MQ-9 was also deployed near LAC when Indo-China stand-off was at its peak. The Indian Navy used MQ-9 drones and the Boeing P-8I multi-mission aircraft to scan the entire 3,044km Line of Actual Control with China to understand the military preparations made by the PLA. This has given the Indian military a clear idea of the Chinese army’s plans and capabilities.
On November 22, 2022, the two MQ-9A RPA that is on lease has completed its 10,000 flight hour in exactly two years, with the maiden flight of MQ-9A taking place on November 21, 2020.
Importance of MQ-9 RPA
The armed forces are impressed with the MQ-9’s over-the-horizon ISR support for surface troops and Indian warships, as well as the platform’s remarkable endurance and operational availability. The UAV was initially leased for a year but has been extended subsequently.
Currently, Indian Navy uses MQ RPA for maritime surveillance from the Gulf of Aden to the Sunda Strait in Indonesia. The MQ-9As have helped the Indian Navy to cover over 14 million square miles of operating area. With its wide range of sensors, high endurance and its low operating costs, the MQ-9 can prove to be a complementary system for navies and air forces operating as maritime patrol aircraft.
Though some national security planners feel the Predator-armed drone is prohibitively expensive and find US-made manned Boeing P 8I aircraft sufficient for the job, the Indian military wants a mix of both armed and surveillance drones for country-specific missions. The operational cost of MQ-9 RPA is also much less compared to P-8I.
Till March 2022, P-8Is were able to accumulate 35,000 flight hours since they were inducted in 2013. However, 2 MQ-9 UAVs have accumulated 10,000 flights hours in just 2 years. If navy goes ahead with procurement of 10 more UAVs it will greatly boost Navy’s maritime surveillance capabilities.
30 MQ-9 Procurement
India and US have been negotiating for this deal for almost six years. As an exception, the US government had cleared the offering of this armed capability to the first non-NATO ally. During the Naval day, the navy chief said that the case for MQ-9 procurement is under process.
As per the latest report from Hindustan Times, Indian Armed forces are seeking 18-armed predator MQ 9A drones from USA on a government-to-government deal. The 18 drones will be split equally among all tri-services, i.e., each service will receive 6 drones. The number was pruned to 18 after operational analysis, mission requirements, and force projection due diligence by the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC). The proposal will be put forward to Narendra Modi at upcoming Combined Commanders Conference at Karwar Naval Base in April.
8 indigenous MALE UAV for NTRO
The National Technical Research Organization (NTRO) which is a technical intelligence agency under the National Security Advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office, India will soon acquire eight Indian-manufactured medium altitude long endurance (MALE) drones for border surveillance and reconnaissance. This is most likely going to be Tapas BH-201 under development by ADE & HAL.