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A US Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, in January 2010. Photo: AP

India to buy first armed drones from US to counter China and Pakistan

  • The US$3 billion purchase of 30 MQ-9B Predator units will boost the country’s land and sea defences as tensions in the region persist
  • The drones India currently has can be used only for surveillance and reconnaissance
India plans to buy 30 armed drones from the US to boost its sea and land defences as tensions persist with neighbours China and Pakistan, according to officials with knowledge of the matter.

The South Asian nation will approve next month the US$3 billion purchase of 30 MQ-9B Predator drones manufactured by San Diego-based General Atomics, the officials said, asking not to be identified speaking with the media.

The deal would add to India’s military capabilities as the drones it has now can only be used for surveillance and reconnaissance.

India is emerging as a strategic defence partner for the US, 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, US$250 billion military modernisation.


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Spokespeople from India’s Defence Ministry and General Atomics did not respond to requests for comment. Pentagon officials did not respond to a request for comment either.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to visit India this month, according to local media, while President Joe Biden will soon join counterparts from India, Japan and Australia in the first-ever meeting of the “Quad” bloc.
The leaders will meet virtually on March 12, according to an announcement posted on the Indian government’s website, which said they would discuss issues including supply chains, maritime security and climate change. The White House confirmed on Tuesday that Biden will be attending.

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The MQ-9B drone can fly for about 48 hours and carry a payload of about 1,700kg (3,700 pounds). It will give the Indian Navy the ability to better monitor Chinese warships in the southern Indian Ocean, and equip the army to engage targets along the disputed India-Pakistan border in the Himalayas.

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 were not deployed after the Air Force expressed apprehension about drones manned by US personnel flying over the border.