Because of its emphasis on indigenous development and manufacturing, as well as the prohibitive cost involved, India has put its plan to acquire 30 Predator armed drones from the United States on hold. The Pentagon has been informed of the decision.
Although the Narendra Modi government banned the import of drones on February 9, acquisition of unmanned aerial vehicles for defence and security purposes is exempt, but special and specific clearances are still required. “As of now, the Predator deal is off,” a top South Block official who did not want to be identified said.
The Indian Navy has already leased two surveillance Predators from a US company to conduct reconnaissance of India’s maritime and land borders with China and Pakistan.
The decision to halt the acquisition was made because India already has some capability in the field of armed drones; it is currently upgrading Israeli Heron drones. The Predator platform with armed payload, such as missiles and laser-guided bombs, costs nearly $100 million per platform, but the platform has a nearly 27-hour endurance.
It is used by the Indian Navy for maritime domain awareness from the Gulf of Aden to the Sunda Straits in Indonesia. While the Indian Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is expected to unveil its medium altitude long endurance (MALE) drone by March, the country’s national security planners are considering futuristic high altitude pseudo satellite (HAPS) technology for surveillance and targeting capability.
India has already demonstrated its capacity and capability for manufacturing swarm drones, as seen at this year’s Beating Retreat ceremony.
Aside from the DRDO, private Indian companies are also involved in the development of drones that are less expensive to operate than the Predator but have comparable lethality.