Discussions between India and the US on the potential sale of armed MQ-9B SeaGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) are progressing at a fast clip, with a decision likely in the next few months. The California-based company is highlighting the RPAS at the ongoing DefExpo in Lucknow.
India had initially planned to buy 22 unarmed SeaGuardian RPA, the maritime variant of the MQ-9B, but government sources say that the new proposal is to buy 12 such armed drones for the Navy. There are reports that the Indian Defense Ministry is also interested in the land-based MQ-9B SkyGuardian for use by the Army and the Air force.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can carry missiles fall under the Missile Technology Control Regime’s (MTCR) Category 1 classification, for which there is a presumption of denial of exports. In order to make the MQ-9B deal and other major arms deals with India happen, the Obama Administration designated India as a ‘Major Defense Partner’ in 2016. The MQ-9B discussions gained momentum after the two countries signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in September 2018, not long after the Trump administration overhauled the country’s arms export policy to make it easier for American defense contractors to sell lethal weapons, including big drones, to allies.
A ground-up redesign of earlier variants, the MQ-9B SeaGuardian and SkyGuardian are multi-mission aircraft and are designed to operate in unsegregated airspace. The nine external hardpoints of the RPAS enable it to be used for a wide variety of critical missions, including environmental protection, maritime domain awareness, search and rescue, as well as military surveillance patrol. The drone has a maximum endurance of forty hours.
The SeaGuardian has SATCOM Auto Take-off and Landing system Capability (ATLC) that helps minimize the aircraft’s launch and recovery footprint. The RPA’s sensors include a specialized long-range multi-mode maritime radar and EO/IR system. The aircraft also has anti-ice, de-ice and lightening protection capabilities to minimize lost sorties due to weather. The MQ-9B also has a fully certifiable design, including the Ground Control Station. This, when combined with a Detect and Avoid (DAA) system, offers the potential to operate the MQ-9B in all classes or airspace.
In November 2018, GA-ASI opened its India office in New Delhi. The California-based company also is collaborating with Sankhya Infotech Limited (Sankhya) to explore Simulation Training and related efforts in support of India’s SeaGuardian program.
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