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US to sell MQ-9B drones to India at a price 27% lower than paid by other nations: Report

The proposed acquisition of MQ-9B long endurance drones by India from the US is expected to be cost-effective, with prices 27% lower than those offered to other countries. Negotiations are underway to further reduce the price.

US to sell MQ-9B drones at a price 27 percent lower than paid by other nations: Report
First Published Jun 30, 2023, 11:56 AM IST

India and the US are progressing with a significant drone deal involving MQ-9B long-endurance drones. According to a senior government official, the average estimated cost of these drones offered to India is 27% lower than the prices incurred by other nations. Negotiations are currently taking place, with Indian representatives aiming to further decrease the cost during the process.

The official emphasized that negotiations regarding pricing have not yet commenced. However, they expressed confidence that the final price will be competitive compared to what other countries have paid for similar drones. The official also noted that prices may be revised upwards if India requests additional features.

Explained: Why India needs lethal MQ-9B drones from the US

The recent development in the acquisition process was the "acceptance of necessity" granted by the Defense Acquisition Council on June 15. However, pricing discussions are not part of this stage, according to the official.

The indicative cost of the MQ-9B drones offered by the US government amounts to $3,072 million, averaging $99 million per drone. In comparison, the UAE, one of the few countries to possess these drones, acquired them at a cost of $161 million per unit. The MQ-9B variant that India seeks to acquire is comparable to the UAE's drones but with superior configuration.

The UK purchased sixteen drones at $69 million each, but they were considered "green aircraft" without sensors, weapons, and certification. The official explained that sensor systems, weapons, and payloads constitute a significant portion (60-70%) of the overall cost. Even the US procured five drones at $119 million each.

The size of India's deal and the manufacturer's potential recovery of initial investments from previous contracts contribute to the lower pricing for India. However, the integration of India's own radars and missiles into the drones may prompt a revision in the price.

The official made these statements on the condition of anonymity in response to recent demands for transparency in the India-US drone deal. They clarified that all three wings of the defence forces, including the Army and the Navy, have participated in consultations and recommended the acquisition of these drones.

India aims to achieve 15-20% technological know-how through technology transfer, with major components and subsystems, such as engines, radar processor units, avionics, sensors, and software, being manufactured and sourced domestically.

Once the final approval is granted by both governments, India plans to procure 11 drones directly to meet immediate requirements, while the rest will be assembled within the country.

The officials cautioned that attempts may be made to spread false news and propaganda to scuttle the deal, as the advanced weapons are likely to instill fear and consternation among India's rivals.

The acquisition of these advanced drones will significantly enhance India's surveillance capabilities and reduce the element of surprise from potential adversaries. They will aid in monitoring the country's land and maritime boundaries more effectively.

As the deal involves the Indian and US governments, it is expected to be transparent and fair, ensuring a favourable outcome. The drone agreement aligns with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of making India a hub for drone manufacturing.

The MQ-9B drones are classified as high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) drones, capable of remaining airborne for over 35 hours and equipped to carry four Hellfire missiles and approximately 450 kg of bombs.

In 2020, the Indian Navy leased two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from General Atomics for surveillance in the Indian Ocean, with the lease subsequently extended.

Defence Ministry fact-checks reports claiming Govt deal for 31 MQ-9B drones is overprice

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