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India-US Defense Partnership Strengthens with Predator Drone Acquisition

In a significant move to bolster its defense capabilities, India has taken a decisive step forward by acquiring 31 MQ-9B Predator drones from the United States, marking a pivotal moment in India-US defense relations. The Biden administration has finalized the deal by sending the letter of acceptance (LOA) to the Indian Defence Ministry, setting the stage for a nearly $4 billion transaction through a government-to-government route. This development comes amid speculation about delays due to diplomatic concerns but underscores a deepening military cooperation between the two democracies.


Sent on March 11, the LOA confirms the negotiated price for the 31 armed drones, counteracting previous reports of a hold-up by the US administration linked to a controversial plot to assassinate Khalistani radical G S Pannun. This progression follows the US State Department’s initial notification of the drone deal on February 1, with a subsequent 30-day period for any possible objections from US lawmakers, which evidently saw no impediments.

The Indian Navy, poised to be the primary beneficiary, will closely examine the LOA before propelling it to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for final approval, pending satisfactory pricing. According to the division of assets, the Navy is set to receive 16 MQ-9B drones, with the Army and Air Force each allocated eight.

This acquisition is not just about expanding India’s military assets; it’s a strategic upgrade with the inclusion of 171 Hell-fire AGM 114 R missiles, laser-guided bombs, missile launchers, and a comprehensive surveillance package. The deal also encompasses anti-submarine sonobuoys and full encryption, enhancing India’s maritime security and surveillance capabilities.

The timing of this acquisition coincides with the nearing expiration of a lease for two Sky Guardian drones (unarmed variants of the Predators) previously utilized by the Indian Navy. With the lease extended through March and a further contract extension for four years at an additional cost, India solidifies its commitment to maintaining cutting-edge aerial surveillance capabilities.

Defense analysts view the India-US MQ-9B deal as a strategic countermeasure to Chinese Wing Loong II armed drones, also supplied to Pakistan. This acquisition is poised to significantly alter the military dynamics in the Indo-Pacific, offering India a robust platform for surveillance and defense against rising regional threats.

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