on November 25, the Hindustan Times (HT) reported that India has leased two MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones from the United States for a year.
The drones will be based at the Naval Air Station Rajali in Tamil Nadu, which is also home to the Indian Navy’s fleet of P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
According to the report, the pair, that arrived in India in early November, will be based in INS Rajali, a naval air station in Tamil Nadu, and will engage in maritime surveillance activities in the Indian Ocean.
The two unarmed Sea Guardians, variants of the iconic armed Predator drones, have already kicked off long-range ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) missions over the Indian Ocean Region.
“The drones can also be deployed along the Line of Actual Control with China if required. The naval P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, for instance, is already being extensively used along the land border to keep tabs on the People’s Liberation Army,” said a source.
Capable of operating at an altitude of 40,000 feet, the MQ-9B UAVs have an endurance of 30 hours and a range of more than 5,000 nautical miles.
New Delhi has been mulling at MQ-9 purchase for a long. It wanted to acquire 30 drones for $3 billion. After the U.S. eased restrictions on the export of its military-grade drones with maximum speed below 800kmph, India was expected to go ahead with the contract. The matter was reportedly even discussed during the recent U.S.-India 2+2 ministerial dialogue in New Delhi.
It is unclear how much the lease of the two SeaGuardian drones is expected to cost India, with HT sources refusing to comment on it.
The country has lately been encouraging leasing of military equipment and had even introduced it as another category in its Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020 that came into effect on October 1.
Aside from being a cheaper option, leasing provides the means to possess and operate an asset without owning it. It may be preferred in cases where there are time constraints and where the capability is needed for a specific time or would be under-utilized if procured.
Currently, India fields the Israeli-made Heron and Searcher surveillance drones and has pushed ahead with trials of the indigenous Rustom-2 surveillance drones. The maritime Heron drone can fly continuously for up to 45 hours; the Rustom-2 prototype’s endurance is 18 hours at present.