The US’ decision to allow sales of armed drones to India will change the battle-scape and New Delhi’s prowess. At present, India does not have armed drones or unmanned aerial vehicles that can fire missiles at desired targets and return to the base.
The Indian armed forces are looking for Predator drones — both the armed version and for surveillance — manufactured by General Atomics of the US. These will add to India’s maritime surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean and also the ability to hit targets at land, in the air and at the sea. Such drones can fly for 24 hours without refuelling and operate at 50,000ft altitude (modern passenger aircraft cruise at 35,000-45,000ft).
Earlier, the US had agreed to sell surveillance version of the Guardian drones to India. India was the first non-treaty partner to be offered a Missile Technology Control Regime or MTCR Category-1 Unmanned Aerial System - the Sea Guardian. The deal is yet to see the light of day.
The US, as per reports, has in recent months informed New Delhi about its decision to sell armed version of the Guardian drones. The tie-up with the US is deeper as India got designated as a ‘major defence partner’. India was last year granted the Strategic Trade Authorisation tier-1 status, which allows India to receive licence-free access to a wide range of military and dual-use technologies.
India on its own is developing an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) called AURA. The UCAV will be capable of releasing missiles, bombs and precision-guided munitions. The programme is in its project definition stage. The design is likely to be a stealthy flying-wing concept aircraft with internal weapons bay and a turbofan engine. The AURA will cruise at a medium altitude and will be capable of carrying two or more guided strike weapons with on-board sensors for targeting and weapon guidance.