India rethinking acquisition of US drones after Iran shootdown: report

Published 29.07.2019 12:31
Updated 29.07.2019 12:54
An MQ-9 Reaper, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, flies over southern Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force Photo)
An MQ-9 Reaper, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, flies over southern Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

India is reconsidering plans to purchase U.S. Global Hawk drones after Iran downed one of the armed drones in the Persian Gulf last month, according to a report by Hindustan Times.

India's military has planned to buy 30 U.S. drones for $6 billion but is now reconsidering the acquisition over the cost and questions of survivability in contested airspace, the report published Sunday said, citing a senior military official.

Though India's deal to purchase the drones had not yet been finalized, the air force and army planned to buy 10 General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drones each while the navy was planning to invest in the long-distance surveillance versions.

Iran shot down a U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone with its S-300 missile system over the Strait of Hormuz on June 20.

According to the Hindustan Times' military sources, the Indian Air Force has questioned the Predator-B drones' survivability in contested airspace, such as over Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir or along the disputed border between India and China. Both Pakistan and China have cutting-edge surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems.

The U.S. has successfully used the armed drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, where the airspace is largely controlled by its air force, a senior military commander told the Hindustan Times on condition of anonymity.

"Pakistan is the only country that has counter-capabilities but will think 100 times before it decides to take a U.S. drone downed by a SAM or beyond visual range air-to-air missile," the commander was quoted as saying.

The price tag on the armed drones is another prohibitive factor in the sale. A bare drone platform will cost $100 million and full complement of weapons such as hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs costs another $100 million, according to the Indian military.

"This means that an armed drone with full complement of weapons will be more expensive than Rafael multi-role fighter with all weapons and missiles on board," a senior South Block official told the Hindustan Times.

"Under the circumstances, the (Indian Air Force) IAF will give preference to acquiring more multi-role fighters with long-range air-to-air missiles and the Indian army will be looking towards replacing its dated T-72 tanks. The Indian navy needs more surface combatants at sea rather than an armed drone for projecting itself as an Indo-Pacific power," the official said.

The IAF has become more interested in long-range air-to-air missiles since a Pakistani F-16 shot down an Indian MiG-21 fighter jet on the Kashmir border in February.

A senior defense ministry official said the decision on the acquisition of the U.S. drones will be taken only after the three military branches approach the government with a proposal.

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