The deal for 31 MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) with the U.S. is expected to be concluded by February 2024 and deliveries will begin from February 2027, three years from the signing of the contract, according to defence sources.
“The deal is on track and the Letter of Offer and Acceptance [LOA] is now awaited from the U.S. The contract is expected to be concluded by February 2024,” a defence source with knowledge of the matter said.
As part of this plan, General Atomics (GA) is scheduled to establish a global Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facility in India. But its location has not yet been finalised, the source stated, adding that it could likely be in Bengaluru.
In June, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) cleared the procurement of 31 MQ-9B UAVs from GA, including 15 Sea Guardians for the Indian Navy and eight Sky Guardians each for the Indian Army and Air Force, at an estimated cost of $3,072 million though the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. Following this, last month, just ahead of the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued the Letter of Request (LoR) to the U.S. government.
Explained | The India-U.S. deal for 31 MQ-9B drones
Based on the LoR, the U.S. government and MoD will finalise the LOA where details of equipment and terms of the procurement would be negotiated and finalised in accordance with the FMS programmme, the Ministry stated earlier.
As part of the process, the U.S. administration will have to notify the U.S. Congress of the sale, expected to be a formality in this case. In the penultimate step, the deal has to be approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security of the Indian government after which the contract will be concluded.
The MQ-9B, which will significantly boost the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities of the Indian armed forces, has two variants - the Sky Guardian and Sea Guardian, its maritime variant. MQ-9B is designed to fly over the horizon via satellite for up to 40 hours, depending on configuration, in all types of weather and safely integrate into civil airspace, according to its manufacturer.