Imagine sitting in a room and keeping a watch over your enemies 2,000 km away from just 250 meters above the ground. With just a click of a button on the controller, a barrage of missiles can be rained down on the target.
One of the deadliest unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the world, the MQ-9B ‘Predator’ or Reaper drone, will soon be in the arsenal of India’s military.
On Thursday, six years after India evinced interest in the Predator drone, the United States approved the sale of 31 of the UAVs at an estimated cost of USD 3.99 billion. A formal contract will be signed in the coming months after approval from the US Congress.
Among the 31, the Navy will get 15 Sea Guardian drones, the naval variant of the Predator. The Air Force and the Army will each get eight Sky Guardian drones.
However, India is not alien to using the ‘hunter-killer’ drones. After Indian troops clashed with Chinese Army personnel in Galwan Valley during the height of their border standoff in eastern Ladakh, the government had taken two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones on lease from the US for a year.
The drones were used to keep an eye on Chinese activity in the Indian Ocean Region. The lease period was extended subsequently.
With the drones in its arsenal, Indian forces will be able to launch remote-controlled operations on terrorist hideouts.
WHAT MAKES MQ-9B PREDATOR DRONE SO LETHAL?
Besides having an array of modern features, speed and firepower, what makes the MQ-9B the most sought-after drone is its ability to operate with pin-drop silence.
It is the stealth feature of the drone that makes it stand out from the competition. The drone can fly as close to 250 metres from the ground without the target even having an inkling it is there unless spotted.
The drone can fly higher than a commercial aircraft, around 50,000 feet above the ground, and has a top speed of 275 mph or 442 km/h.
Another feature that it boasts of is its ability to be deployed on lengthy missions in any weather. A Predator drone can carry around 1,700 kg of payload, including four missiles and around 450 kg of bombs, and travel 2,000 miles without refuelling.
The drone can fly continuously or hover over targets for up to 35 hours, according to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, its manufacturer.
Apart from air-to-air missiles, the drone can also be equipped with air-to-ground missiles, making it unique.
The United States uses the Predator drones for surveillance, intelligence gathering and airstrikes. This is possible due to its wide-range sensors, multi-mode communication system, and precision weaponry.
The Sea Guardian, the Predator’s naval variant, has a 360-degree surface-search maritime radar, and sonobuoy monitoring system, enabling it to be deployed for anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare missions.
The drone system is also economical. The MQ-9B can match 80 per cent of the capability of a manned patrol aircraft at about 20 per cent of its cost per hour, according to General Atomics.
‘TERRORIST HUNTER IN MIDDLE EAST’
The advanced MQ-9 version replaced the RQ-1 ‘Predator’ in 2018. The Predator drone, which was first flown way back in 1995, was used extensively by the United States in its war on terror after the 9/11 attacks. The drones were deployed to target al-Qaida hideouts in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan in the early 2000s.
In recent times, Predator drones have been deployed on a large scale in the Middle East. In the past five years, the United States has used drones to target senior members of the Islamic State in northwestern Syria.
In May 2016, Akhtar Mansour, the then second-in-command of the Taliban, was killed in a Predator drone strike in Balochistan.
In January 2020, a Predator drone attack killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, triggering a protracted diplomatic row between the two warring nations. Soleimani was the commander of the powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
This is why the drone has also been dubbed as a “terrorist hunter” in the Middle East.
The Predator drones are also used by Australia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom.