India to buy 31 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs

India to buy 31 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs

Context : 

Defence officials revealed that the Defence Acquisition Council on Thursday approved the purchase of 31 armed MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) from General Atomics in advance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to the United States. The agreement is currently pending final clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security and is anticipated to be made public during the visitation the following week.

MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

  • Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) General Atomics Aeronautical Systems developed the MQ-9 Reaper, often referred to as Predator B, principally for the United States Air Force (USAF).
  • Its capabilities include hunter-killer and long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance.
  • Compared to the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper is larger, heavier, and more powerful.
  • The same ground controls as the MQ-1 Predator can be used to control it.
  • The turboprop engine on the Reaper has 950 shaft horsepower, which is a significant increase over the piston engine on the Predator.
  • Due to its enhanced power, the Reaper can cruise at a speed that is almost three times that of the MQ-1 Predator while towing a payload that is 15 times bigger.
  • Aircrew in the Ground Control Station (GCS) keep an eye on the aircraft and manage its operations, including the use of weapons.
  • The United States Air Force has utilised the MQ-9 Reaper in several capacities, including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and a real hunter-killer role.
  • When the New York Air National Guard 174th Attack Wing fully adopted the use of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) in 2008, it became the first fighter unit to go from piloted planes to MQ-9A Reapers.
  • The USAF operated more than 300 MQ-9 Reapers as of May 2021, and the FY2021 Congressional budget authorised the purchase of 16 more units.
  • All new MQ-9 aircraft is anticipated to feature these equipment enhancements, which have been put onto some MQ-9 aircraft to boost performance in high-stress combat scenarios.
  • The MQ-9 fleet’s anticipated end of service life is 2035.
  • Other organisations, like as the United States Customs and Border Protection and the militaries of numerous other nations, also employ the MQ-9 Reaper.
  • According to estimates, an MQ-9 will cost roughly $30 million in 2021 USD per unit.

Points to Ponder:

  • Approval and procurement: 
      • The Defence Acquisition Council of India has given its approval for the purchase of 31 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs from General Atomics.
      • Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to announce his visit to the United States. The agreement is awaiting final approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security.
  • Cost and Efficiency:
      • Over $3 billion is expected to be spent on the deal’s maintenance, overhaul, and repair costs combined.
      • The purchase will be carried out via the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales mechanism.
  • Allocation and Needs: 
      • Of the 31 UAVs, 15 will be given to the Navy, while eight each will be given to the Army and Air Force.
      • The Navy has the greatest need for these platforms since they will greatly improve its ability to conduct maritime surveillance over the Indian Ocean region.
  • Advantages for the Navy:
      • The Navy will be able to use fewer P-8I maritime patrol aircraft by using MQ-9 Reaper UAVs.
      • The Navy’s maritime surveillance capabilities will be strengthened, and it will be possible to effectively cover the large operational area in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Lease and Flight Hours:
      • The Navy has renewed the leases on two MQ-9A aircraft that were first leased in 2020.
      • Since their first flight in November 2020, the rented UAVs have logged 10,000 flight hours and have operated in an area larger than 14 million square miles.
  • Collaboration with HAL:
    •  General Atomics and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) announced their partnership at Aero India in February.
    • The MQ-9’s turbo-propeller engines would receive support from HAL’s engine division for the Indian market.
    • For upcoming high-altitude, long-endurance UAV projects, the businesses want to build a comprehensive engine maintenance, repair, and overhaul programme.