The Death of Al Qaeda leader “AL-Zawahiri” by the Hellfire Missiles launched from the US Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (MQ-9 Reaper) has garnered significant importance and military attention of the world. India being an ally of the United States too needs such weapon platforms to counter China in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region) and in the LAC (Line of Actual Control).
During its initial years, i.e.in the 1990’s the Reaper drones were used for aerial tracking, surveillance and reconnaissance purposes post the incapability of the GNAT-750 in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1993-1994). The GNAT also faced certain technical defects, and multiple issues in functionalities. The RQ-1 Predator Drones aka Reaper Drones came as a much capable successor. It saw combat in the Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and in Iraq. Along with Syria. In the year 2000, the Americans required an advanced version and thus in 2008 the MQ-9 Reaper came into forefront developed by General Atomics.
The Drone is classified into two categories, the first being “Sky Guardian” and the second being “Sea Guardian.” Both drones have an extensive fuel capacity of 2,720 kg and can carry 5,670 kg of warhead/payload. This flying machine has the ability to operate at 40,000 ft which provides excellent surveillance for Indian forces in the border areas. It has a 40hr flight duration and can be used for a variety of missions which include anti-ship warfare, anti-submarine capabilities, electronic and land warfare as well. It can also carry PGM (Precision Guided Munitions) such as laser guided bombs.
Most of the UAV’s used by the Indian Armed Forces have Israeli Origin. The IAI (Israel Aerospace Industry) provides the following drones to India namely; Harop, Heron and Harpy. The Harpy is an attack drone. Whereas the Heron is a surveillance UAV. The DRDO has also developed an indigenous drone called “Lakshya” for the Indian Military. India will soon receive a batch of 30 Predator Drones. Each wing of the Indian Armed Forces will receive 10 drones each. The total deal is worth 3 billion USD.
It is believed that the Predator Drones have been instrumental in the death of Qassim Suleimani (general of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2020. China is much ahead in UAV technology when compared to India and but its value in terms of quality is poor against US technology. Pakistan is also helped by Turkey in development of UAV. It can be said that this Indo-American defence relationship is quite new as Russia has been the primary weapons exporter for India.
There has been a substantial delay in acquisition. Initially the deal was about to be scrapped, But the procurement proposal was highlighted in the 2+2 Defence Ministerial Dialogues between India and the USA in Washington (April). The deal is now in an advanced stage but yet to be finalised. If the Drone Deal is successful, then it will Revolutionise Military Affairs of India. The basic premise of the RMA (is that complex, expensive, huge and cumbersome systems can be replaced with smarter/more accurate systems that will provide much more damage)
Lastly, it can be said that the MQ-9 Reaper Drones can be classified as a strategic asset for Indian Armed Forces. A weapon or technology is considered strategic if its use helps in decisively turn the outcome of a war/conflict. Most importantly, if the deal is won, it shall place India into the league of the leading nations in the sphere of unmanned weapon systems platform. It will also maintain strategic balance between India and China in Asia.