Amidst the ongoing border standoff with China, the Indian Navy has inducted two Predator drones from an American firm on lease for carrying out surveillance in the Indian Ocean Region and which can also be deployed along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh.
According to the reports, the American Predator UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) have been inducted in the Navy under the emergency procurement powers bestowed on it by the Defence Ministry in the wake of the continuing India-China conflict in Ladakh.
“The drones had arrived in the second week of November and were inducted into flying operation on November 21 at Indian Navy base at INS Rajali,” a top government official told ANI.
The sources claimed that the drones have already started carrying out their flying operations and have an endurance capability of remaining in the air for over 30 hours. The advanced drones are proving to be a significant asset reinforcing the strength of India’s maritime forces, the sources said. Along with the Predator drones, an American crew from the vendor have also come along to help the Navy in carrying out smooth operation of the machines.
Drones taken on lease for a year; Indian Armed Forces looking to procure 18 more such drones from the US
Though the drones are taken on lease for one year, the three wings of the Indian Armed Forces are already gearing up to acquire 18 such drones from the United States. The conflict between India and China has brought New Delhi and Washington ever closer and the two countries are working jointly to ward off Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh, including in areas such as surveillance, defence cooperation and information sharing in all domain.
As per sources cited by ANI, the option of leasing weapon systems has been provisioned under the Defence Acquisition Procedure-2020 and the Defence Procurement Manual-2009 which provides an economical way to acquire the advance weaponry. In addition to this, even the maintenance of the system relies solely on the vendor.
The sources said that the American crew accompanying the Predator drones will be involved only in the maintenance and technical issued whereas the sortie planning and the joystick control would be with the Indian Navy officers. The data collected by the drone during its flight will be the exclusive property of the Indian Navy, the sources said.
Capabilities of the American Predator drones
The Predator drones are known for their aerial reconnaissance and forward observation roles. They carry a camera and other sensors which provide crucial information about the adversary’s movements and military strategy. Surveillance imagery from video cameras and a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) can be shared in real-time both to the front line soldier and to the operational commander, or worldwide in real-time via satellite communication links.
Armed with missiles, the predators can assume the multi-role version for armed reconnaissance and interdiction. The drones equipped to carry missiles and other munitions can carry out offensive operations. They had been widely used by the American military for hitting ground targets in the middle east in the war against Islamic terrorism. They were first used in 2001 from bases in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, mostly aimed at carrying out high-precision attacks against terror hideouts.
The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator UAV is made by General Atomics, an American energy and defence corporation. It is a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system, and its armed versions can carry missiles and laser targeting systems. It is now known whether the drones leased by India are armed or unarmed, but given that they have been leased from a private firm, it is likely that they are unarmed, probably to be used only for surveillance.
Given that China frequently crosses over the border and LAC to intrude into Indian territories, the drones will be an asset to keep a close surveillance on the Indo-China border. It will also provide the Indian armed forces valuable experience of working with these advanced drones, which India is planning to acquire.