U.S. Approves Potential $3.9B MQ-9B UAV Sale to India

February 1, 2024 6:43 PM
An MQ-9 Sea Guardian unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft system flies over the Pacific Ocean during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21, April 21. UxS IBP 21 integrates manned and unmanned capabilities into challenging operational scenarios to generate warfighting advantages. US Navy Photo

The State Department greenlit a potential $3.9 billion deal of General Atomics MQ-9B drones to India today, marking the latest move between Washington and New Delhi as the two strengthen their defense and security cooperation.

In its notification to Congress, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the proposed sale “will improve India’s capability to meet current and future threats by enabling unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in sea lanes of operation” and help “strengthen the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship.”

The proposed package for the Indian military includes 31 SkyGuardian unmanned aerial vehicles, 310 Small Diameter Bombs and 170 Hellfire missiles. Associated radars and anti-submarine equipment for the maritime-focused SeaGuardian variant, a derivative of the SkyGuardian, were also included.

Last June, the Indian Ministry of Defence approved an Acceptance of Necessity for acquiring the American drones for a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) tri-service requirement. Between the Indian military branches, the Indian Army and Air Force will receive eight SkyGuardians each while the Indian Navy will take 16 SeaGuardians.

India previously leased two SeaGuardian drones in November 2020, following a violent clash in the Himalayas between Indian and Chinese forces that saw multiple dead, wounded and captured on both sides. According to General Atomics, within two years the drones have tallyed up over 12,000 operational hours in Indian service.

From high-altitude warfare kits for troops in the disputed Ladakh region to P-8I Poseidon for maintaining maritime domain awareness in the Indian Ocean Region, India has bolstered its imports of American-made equipment. Last year, Washington and New Delhi agreed to co-produce fighter jet engines and Stryker armored vehicles.

Amid the U.S. Navy’s call to seek foreign yards for repairs and maintenance of forward-based assets in the Indo-Pacific, Indian shipbuilders have stepped up in several agreements to allow the upkeep of American vessels. Mazgaon Dock Shipbuilders, Ltd, one of India’s largest yards, signed a Master Ship Repair Agreement in last September.

American capabilities in Indian service have been deployed to monitor the ongoing events in the Red Sea. The Indian Navy’s SeaGuardian drones and Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft were reportedly involved in the recapture of the hijacked MV Lila Norfolk in December.

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa is a freelance defense journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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