US Greenlights $3.99 Billion Deal for Sale of 31 MQ9B Drones to India

US Greenlights $3.99 Billion Deal for Sale of 31 MQ9B Drones to India

The US State Department has given the go-ahead for the sale of MQ-9B remotely piloted aircraft to India through the foreign military sales program. According to reports, the Joe Biden administration has formally informed the US Congress about the proposed transaction involving 31 Sky Guardian drones and associated equipment to India, with an estimated cost of $3.99 billion.

Negotiations on pricing have been ongoing since the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC) of the Indian armed forces granted clearance for the acquisition of 31 drones in June 2023. The final round of talks is anticipated to take place soon, with the potential signing of the deal by March of this year.

While the US State Department announced the sale of 31 Sky Guardian drones, the Indian Ministry of Defence (MOD) had previously sanctioned the procurement of 16 Sky Guardian drones for the Indian Army and Air Force (8 drones each) and 15 Sea Guardian drones for the Indian Navy in the previous year. It remains uncertain whether India is exclusively acquiring Sky Guardian variants or if the purchase includes 15 Sea Guardian drones for the Indian Navy.

As part of the agreement, India is set to receive a comprehensive weapon package, including 170 Hellfire Missiles, 310 GBU39 laser Small Diameter Bombs, and various other equipment.

Reports indicate that 11 drones will be directly imported by India, while the remaining drones will be assembled locally, incorporating the manufacturing of key components like engines, avionics, and sensors under the Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreement.

These advanced High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) class drones are poised to significantly augment the surveillance and strike capabilities of the Indian armed forces.

MQ9B Sea-Sky Guardian

Sky Guardian and Sea Guardian

The Sky Guardian and Sea Guardian represent the latest versions of the MQ-9A Reaper, also known as the MQ-9B Predator. The Sea Guardian serves as a naval variant equipped with a long-range maritime radar providing 360-degree coverage and various other improvements. Meanwhile, the Sky Guardian boasts enhanced capabilities, including improved fuel capacity for over 40+ hours of endurance, enhanced payload capacity, advanced high-altitude EO/IR sensors, and automatic takeoff and landing capabilities. Notably, the Sky Guardian, with its flexible capabilities, can perform Sea Guardian missions using the dedicated mission kit designed for maritime operations.

MQ9 Reaper: The Hunter Killer

Renowned for their impressive track record, these drones are commonly referred to as hunter-killers. In 2020, an MQ9 drone was employed by the US to eliminate Qasim Suleimani, Iran’s key military General. Similarly, in 2023, the leader of Al-Qaeda, Al Zawahiri, was targeted and eliminated by this drone. Over the past few years, the CIA, the American Intelligence Agency, has utilized MQ9 Reaper drones to neutralize several high-profile individuals posing significant threats to the United States.

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Operations in the Russia-Ukraine War

Reports suggest that American MQ9 Reapers, alongside other platforms, are engaged in Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions to support the Ukrainian military in executing high-precision strikes.

Russia has repeatedly claimed to intercept MQ9 and Global Hawk drones with fighter jets, alleging multiple airspace violations over Crimea.

While Ukraine continues to target Russian ports in the Black Sea with Storm Shadow missiles, causing significant disruptions for the Russian Navy, American aerial platforms are reportedly providing targeting information and high-resolution images to the Ukrainian military to bolster these attacks.

As Russian Navy warships launch cruise missiles, these drones play a critical role by offering information on the presence of Russian warships in the Black Sea to Ukraine, acting as early warning platforms to enhance Ukraine’s preparedness against potential missile attacks.

India-US Relation

The acquisition of 31 MQ9B drones is poised to strengthen India-US relations. Equipped with advanced sensors and weapons, the MQ9 drones have the potential to significantly enhance the surveillance and strike capabilities of the Indian armed forces in both the Northern borders and the Indian Ocean Region. Their proven effectiveness in numerous combat operations underscores their capabilities.

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