|By Gulshan Luthra||Published: July 2017|
New Delhi. The US Government has cleared the sale of 22 Guardian Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for the Indian Navy.
A proposal for these UAS, or drones, was formally mooted by the Indian Navy through the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs last year, and cleared by the Trump Administration just before Prime Minister’s Modi’s visit to Washington in June. A positive indication though was given to the Indian Navy a little before, authoritative sources here told India Strategic.
Built by General Atomics (GA), a crown jewel company of USA, the unarmed Guardian is also known as Predator B, or Sea Guardian, and is the world’s most sophisticated maritime surveillance aircraft. It can be operated from ground stations or ships.
Indian Navy officers have already worked out the configuration it needs with GA officials, and discussions for the acquisition process should begin in August or so. The US will sell it on G-to-G (Government to Government) basis, under its Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme conducted by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) of the Department of Defense (DOD).
Notably, the Indian Navy already has a formidable capability in its Boeing P8-I maritime surveillance and attack aircraft particularly to track and hunt hostile submarines. When this capability is combined with that of the Guardian, it will get an unmatched combination for surveillance and attack missions in the Indian Ocean, specifically the area from the Malacca Strait to the Gulf of Aden which is regarded as an area of interest by India.
The P8-I can be on station for more than four hours, while the unmanned Sea Guardian can be in the air for more than 40 hours. Both can fly low or up to 40,000 feet.
The big question now is how long will it take to acquire the Sea Guardian?
Dr Vivek Lall, Chief Executive, US and International Strategic Development for GA, declined comment except to say that the company will be guided by the US DOD and that “We will try to meet all customer requirements.”
Dr Lall, who has earlier worked with NASA, Raytheon and Boeing, handles the sales of Predator variants and nuclear energy systems for the GA’s global customers.
GA has to its credit some excellent, patented innovations in nuclear and energy applications including the latest Electromagnetic Propulsion for launching aircraft from aircraft carriers. The company also holds the patent for a key safety component used in nuclear reactors globally.
Coming back to the Predator B, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba has already observed that the Navy is looking forward to acquiring combat jets, drones and submarines AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. Now that the US has cleared the deal of Guardians at the highest level, their acquisition timeline is a matter of how soon the two sides agree on the price, which is likely around $2 billion according to unconfirmed published figures.
A deal is regarded done when the first payment is made, and then the delivery time is generally 36 months for the initial lot beginning that date.
Sources however said that the Navy is looking at getting the Guardians in about three to four years from now.
Significantly, the Indian Navy has already worked out the requirements.
Details are not available but going by a published company statement, these include 40-hour mission endurance, Powerful 360 degree maritime search radar with Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar, all weather 24×7 high definition full motion imagery and Integration with Manned air/surface assets.
It may be noted that the Indian Navy has a highly advanced Sea-Land-Air-Space communication facility at Gurgaon near New Delhi to network its various sea, land, air, space and sub-sea assets. Like the P8-I, the Sea Guardian will also be integrated with this facility, called Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC). A data fusion centre, it was inaugurated in 2014 by the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
The Indian Navy also has a dedicated satellite for its own requirements.