United States Government, on Thursday, notified US Congress on possible sales of 31 MQ-9B, remotely piloted aircraft, through Foreign Military Sales route for $3.99 billion. The RPAs will come with a weapons package including 170 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles and GBU-39B/B Laser Small Diameter Bombs (LSDB), said Defense Security Cooperation Agency in a statement.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to strengthen the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defense partner which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region,” statement said.
Expressing US commitment to helping India in modernizing its military, DSCA said that 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.”
Reportedly, out of 31 aircraft, Indian Navy will acquire 15 and rest 16 would be divided equally between the other two services. Indian Navy currently operates two MQ-9B Sea Guardians on lease from US. The two RPAs were inducted in November 2020 amidst the India-China border row in the northern Ladakh.
MQ-9B ‘Sky Guardian’ is a variant of General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper, High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE), in service since 2007 with US Air Force. The Reaper succeeded MQ-1 Predator and took first flight in 2001. According to US AF, much powerful than Predator, Reapers are designed “to execute time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, and destroy or disable those targets.”
Why Sky Guardian?
With an endurance of over 40 hours and ability to fly at high altitude of 12000 m with payload capable of collecting precise intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and neutralising variety of surface targets with precision makes it a very potent aerial system to survey a large area given its range of over 6000 nmi.