|By Gulshan Luthra||Published: November 2017|
New Delhi. We broke the story of India’s interest in the Unmanned Predator Avengers when Prime Minister Narendra Modi first met President Barack Obama, and later when he first met President Donald Trump in the Washington.
A top official in his delegation expressed India’s interest as a mention, as they in diplomacy for sending feelers, and formal notes were exchanged by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) through the diplomatic missions as per the laid down procedure. India asked for the aircraft’s specs and availability, and soon after the US State and Defense Departments cleared the sale of unmanned Predator Guardian for the Indian Navy for surveillance missions, IAF made another push.
There has been no official word on the request or possibility so far, but last month, on the eve of the Air Force Day on October 8, IAF Chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, told India Strategic in an interview that IAF is interested in a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAV for “Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) role and will consider the Predator Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) in case it is offered by the US.”
He gave no details.
My question to the Chief was: IAF is looking for a large number of armed drones, and reports from Washington have indicated that India has asked for Predator C Avengers from General Atomics. USG cleared the Indian Navy’s request for 22 Sea Guardians just in time for before our Prime Minister’s official visit to Washington DC. Where are we on this proposal? These aircraft are needed for long range precision strikes with no risk to our pilots. We understand that the Israelis are also in competition.
Diplomatic sources in Washington indicate that some specific numbers have been discussed, but that the US Government is yet to accord its approval to the Indian requirement. In fact, it has to be done at the highest level, by President Trump himself.
And possibly when Mr Modi meets with Mr Trump in the coming weeks, the requirement could be discussed at the highest level.
Representatives of the two Governments, including those of the US Defense and Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), diplomatic missions, USAF and IAF are nonetheless considering the options.
Asked about any developments and possible timelines, Dr Vivek Lall, the distinguished aerospace expert who is now General Atomics’ Chief Executive US and International Strategic Development, observed the company only fulfilled a country’s requirements through the US Department of Defense. He could only say that there are discussions between the two countries involving the Predator series of aircraft but he could give neither their technical specs or at what stage the bilateral discussions between the two governments are.
Meanwhile, reports from the US capital indicate that the Indian Navy is also now asking for armed drones.
It wants the 22 Sea Guardians that the US has agreed to sell to be converted to ISR + Attack role. The aircraft has hard points to install whatever is required, and the Navy is looking for the Hellfires which are already configured for it.
The arms bazaar is full of competition, and the European MBDA has also jumped in the fray for arming the Sea Guardians if the Indian Navy allows it to. Legally though, the Navy would have no rights to fiddle with the machine to install something from any competition without the manufacturer’s, and the US Government’s, approval.
Although India asked for the Sea Guardians, got the official US approval to acquire them, it has not yet signed any agreement in this regard. Discussions though are continuing to fine-tune each other’s position to a mutually acceptable level.
Notably, the Indian Air Force is substantially short of combat aircraft, and acquisition of unarmed drones for reconnaissance and attack purposes would help reduce their shortfall by bringing in new and sophisticated capabilities on board.
The US Air Force has effectively used the Predators to assess threats, locate them with precision and strike them direct. In fact, USAF has shared live footage of certain operations it conducted in Afghanistan to effectively hit buildings, vehicles and human targets as part of counter terrorism measures. One video was also shown at a seminar India Strategic held sometime back on Air Power and Drones.