Eye on China: A $3 billion US drone acquisition heads for MoD approval

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is preparing to acquire 30 General Atomics MQ-9A Reaper drones from the United States, in a deal valued at approximately $3 billion (Rs 22,000 crore). A recent series of meetings within the MoD have cleared the way for the procurement of an initial lot of six Reaper Medium Altitude Long Endurance drones. These six drones—two each for the army, navy and air force—are to be procured immediately from the US, indicating the urgency of the acquisition.

Sources tell INDIA TODAY that an ‘acceptance of necessity’ (AON) for 30 drones will be put before an upcoming meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by defence minister Rajnath Singh. The contract is being broken up into two parts—six MQ-9s worth approximately $600 million (Rs 4,400 crore) are to be purchased outright and delivered in the next few months. The remaining 24—eight drones for each service—will be acquired over the next three years under an ‘option clause’ in the contract.

The deal has been in the pipeline for the past three years, first as the sale of 22 Sea Guardians (an unarmed maritime variant of the MQ-9) for the Indian Navy in 2017. This was then converted into a tri-services acquisition by the government in 2018 when the armed version of the MQ-9 was cleared for sale to India by the US.T

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