India to buy 30 Predator drones, may help avoid US sanctions over S-300

New Delhi: India is all set to acquire 30 MQ-9B Predator Drones from the US in a deal worth $3 billion. The Defense Procurement Board (DPB) of India has given its nod for a proposal to be sent to Defense Acquisition Committee (DAC) headed by defense minister Rajnath Singh.

The final approval for the deal is expected to come from the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the end of this year. India is in the midst of a 10-year military modernization plan with a budget of $250 billion. The drone procurement proposal had been moved by the Indian Navy and all three defense services are likely to get 10 drones each.

The remotely piloted drones are manufactured by San Diego-based General Atomic. The Predators can fly for about 48 hours and carry a payload of about 1,700 kg. They can be deployed on a range of missions including surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and destroying the enemy target.

The inclusion of Predator drones in its arsenal will give the Indian Navy the ability to better monitor Chinese warships in the Southern Indian Ocean, and equip the army to engage targets along the border with both China and Pakistan.

The move has come when India faces the possibility of US sanctions for the purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia under its CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanction Act) regime. China and Turkey are already penalized for their S-400 purchase under CAATSA. Meanwhile, some of the US senators have urged President Joe Biden to waive off these sanctions on India.

Moreover, India is also emerging as a strategic defense partner of the USA in countering Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to visit India later this month while US President Joe Biden will meet top leaders of the “Quad” block virtually on March 12.

Last year, India leased two unarmed MQ-9 Predators from the USA as border tensions with China threatened to snowball into full-blown conflict but the Indian Air Force (raised the red flag in the deployment of drones manned by US personnel flying over the border.

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) Arms Transfers databases, India was the third-largest importer of the military-grade drones in 2020. So far, most of these are for surveillance and reconnaissance use including the advanced Heron drones leased from Israel last year.

Image courtesy of (Photo: Wikipedia)

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