The delay in procurement of 22 Guardian drones from the US at an estimated cost of $2 billion has hit India’s naval forces. The unmanned aircraft system, manufactured by US’ General Atomics, is a maritime variant of the Predator B drone, and equipped with several radar systems, specifically useful for maritime searches.
The US had approved the foreign military sale (FMS) of the GA-ASI Guardian ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington at the end of June, sources confirmed.
The prospective sale would mark the first of its kind from the US to a country that is not a member of the NATO, said sources, adding that a response was awaited from India.
However, weaponisation of the drone for India has not been discussed, sources said. General Atomics did not respond to an e-mail on the drones.
The MQ-9B SkyGuardian is designed to be certified for a 40,000 hour service life. It recently set a company record for the longest endurance flight of any Predator-series aircraft, flying for 48.2 hours non-stop.
The remotely piloted aircraft is fitted with a total of nine hardpoints, and can carry weapons weighing up to 2,177 kg. It can carry precision guided munitions, laser guided bomb, and air-to-surface missiles. The Guardian is fitted with a Raytheon SeaVue multi-mode maritime radar.
The remotely piloted aircraft can carry out missions such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, maritime patrol, border surveillance and disaster relief. The maritime patrol variant is intended to conduct surveillance and patrol missions in the open sea.
A deal for the UAVs would also include training for Indian navy personnel in the US, said sources, adding that the Defence Ministry’s letter of request was sent in June 2016 to the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which manages all FMS programmes.
Commenting on the delay, Amit Cowshish, a former financial advisor for acquisition in the Defence Ministry, said, “Going by past experience, there has not been any unusual delay in signing the deal. Even if there are no hiccups, the procedure could take another several months before the deal is finalised.”
Cowshish added that one could “expect some movement only during the next financial year, provided there are no other issues like weaponisation of the drone that need to be resolved.”
The drone offered to India is without weapons. Though it is capable of carrying the payload, sources added, India’s request for a weaponised version could further delay a potential purchase.