India to buy 30 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to counter China and Pakistan

India plans to buy 30 armed drones from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to boost its naval and land defenses as tensions persist with neighbors China and Pakistan, The Business Standard reports.
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MQ-9 Reaper in Royal Australian Air Force markings (Picture source: General Atomics)

India will approve in April the $3 billion purchase of 30 General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (or Predator B) drones manufactured by San Diego-based General Atomics. The deal would add to India’s military capabilities as the drones it has now can only be used for surveillance and reconnaissance. Last year, India leased two unarmed MQ-9 Predators as border tensions with China threatened to spin into a full-blown conflict. In the end, they weren’t deployed after the Air Force expressed apprehension about drones manned by U.S. personnel flying over the border.

India is emerging as a strategic defense partner for the U.S., particularly in countering Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean and some areas of Southeast Asia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is in the midst of a 10-year, $250 billion military modernization, The Business Standard recalls. “U.S.-India relations in the present day are the result of decades of dedicated efforts by both countries,” Vivek Lall, chief executive for General Atomics, said in an email.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to visit India this month, while President Joe Biden will soon join counterparts from India, Japan and Australia in the first-ever meeting of top leaders of the “Quad” bloc. The leaders will meet virtually on March 12, according to a statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs, which said they would discuss issues including supply chains, maritime security and climate change.

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B)

The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (sometimes called Predator B) is an unmanned aerial vehicle capable of remotely controlled or autonomous flight operations developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) primarily for the U.S. Air Force. The MQ-9 and other UAVs are referred to as Remotely Piloted Vehicles/Aircraft (RPV/RPA) by the USAF to indicate their human ground controllers.

The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance. In 2006, the then–Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force General T. Michael Moseley said: "We've moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper."

The MQ-9 is a larger, heavier, and more capable aircraft than the earlier General Atomics MQ-1 Predator; it can be controlled by the same ground systems used to control MQ-1s. The Reaper has a 950-shaft-horsepower (712 kW) turboprop engine (compared to the Predator's 115 hp (86 kW) piston engine). The greater power allows the Reaper to carry 15 times more ordnance payload and cruise at about three times the speed of the MQ-1. The aircraft is monitored and controlled by aircrew in the Ground Control Station (GCS), including weapons employment.