US to sell $4 billion worth of SkyGuardian drones to India in bid to strengthen ties
Most of the order will be fulfilled by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems with the consignment including AGM-114R Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and small diameter laser bombs besides the MQ-9B SkyGuardian drones. The Defence Express portal, a specialist in military affairs, suggests that some of the newly acquired MQ-9B SkyGuardians will likely be deployed on the border with China and Pakistan.
The MQ-9B SkyGuardian purchase by India
The MQ-9B SkyGuardian is a modern High Altitude, Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle meant for reconnaissance and surveillance tasks. Additionally, it can be used for strike missions as it comes with nine attachment points for weapons.
It is capable of performing missions continuously for about 40 hours in any weather, day or night. The MQ-9B SkyGuardian is 38 feet long and has a wingspan of 79 feet. The drone weighs 12,500 pounds at takeoff and can reach a maximum speed of 277 mph.
The US Department of State, in a brief communique, mentioned that the drone deal with India has the potential to enhance both technological and military cooperation in the region with India. The current US administration sees this cooperation as an opportunity to overcome Russia's prevailing influence over India's military procurement.
India leans closer towards the US for its military needs
Earlier this year, Reuters, citing Indian sources, revealed that Russia is no longer considered an attractive business partner by India. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the subsequent Western sanctions have raised concerns over the timely delivery of ammunition and spare parts. However, as analysts suggest, India needs to handle its shift away from Russia thoughtfully to avoid pushing Russia deeper into an alliance with China.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute calculates that Russia has supplied about 65% of the weapons procured by the Indian army over the past two decades. However, the dynamics are now changing. While India continues to develop its own weaponry (like the Sprut SDM1 light tanks with 4.92-inch caliber guns), it is also increasingly purchasing Western military hardware. A notable sign of United States' interest in fostering a better relationship with India was the recent announcement expressing readiness to manufacture Stryker armored personnel carriers, including the newest Stryker M-SHORAD variant, in India.