The Narendra Modi government’s interest in acquiring the US Predator MQ-9B armed drone increased after national security planners observed clear images of Chinese military capabilities along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). These images were captured by the same drones leased to the Indian Navy following the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aggression in East Ladakh in May 2020.
Surveillance footage from the leased Sky Guardian drones (the unarmed version of MQ-9B) and the Indian Navy’s Boeing P8I multi-mission aircraft provided actionable intelligence on PLA military capabilities, including missile silos, rocket system deployments, and troop movements along the 3488 km long LAC. This information proved crucial for national security planners to counter-deploy effectively, keeping the PLA at bay and potentially surprising them in worst-case scenarios.
The recent approval of a USD 3.99 billion deal by the US for India to acquire 31 latest armed versions of the Predator drone will significantly enhance Bharat’s military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific. The hunter-killer drone allows India to project power thousands of kilometers beyond its borders. With 15 drones, the Indian Navy will not only achieve maximum maritime domain awareness but also possess a deterrence capability against any expansionist Navy in the region, leveraging sub-surface, surface, and aerial platforms.
Despite attempts by some Western and left-leaning media to undermine the deal with orchestrated stories aimed at creating suspicion about the Modi government, ongoing communication between the top leadership of both countries ensures a lack of discordant notes. Additionally, the media’s claims of the US not transferring GE-414 engine technology for Tejas Mark II to India are unfounded, as the deal has been cleared, and commercial negotiations between GE and HAL have commenced. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval received real-time updates on the India-US Predator deal’s clearance through the four-tiered Congress review on Wednesday night.
While China and Pakistan, India’s principal adversaries, possess armed Chinese-manufactured drones, the high-altitude long-endurance Predator drone stands out due to its proven track record in the Afghan and Iraq wars. The inclusion of 170 Hell-Fire missiles with an 11-kilometer range and 310 Laser Guided Bombs with nearly 150 kilometers range enhances India’s counter-terrorism capabilities, enabling targeting without border crossings. The Indian Army now also has loitering ammunition to address gaps on borders and beyond.
Despite potential questions from critics regarding the performance of India and Predator drones in contested airspaces over the Line of Control (LoC) or LAC, the drone’s operational ceiling of 27,000 feet allows it to observe the enemy from nearly 50,000 feet and engage effectively. The acquisition of the Predator drone positions Bharat as a heavyweight in offensive operations in the Indo-Pacific.