In a development that will reinforce India-US relations and herald a strategic partnership, Washington is understood to have given clearance for export of ‘Predator XP’ version unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to India.
Manufactured by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, ‘Predator XP’ UAV could be possibly used for multiple purposes, including patrolling of the Pakistan and China borders touching India and reconnaissance of red terror areas. The home ministry is also keen on acquiring this sophisticated technology.
Highly placed sources told FE that the licence to export to India was cleared by the US administration in October 2014 itself, much before the visit of US President Barack Obama. The permission to allow exports to India of advanced US military UAVs which fall under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Category I export control restrictions has been termed as significant and a big step towards forging a strategic partnership between the two nations.
Though the sources refrained from sharing pricing details of the UAV, it is estimated that a 10-vehicle Predator system, with ground stations and software, would cost around $400 million. A single Predator vehicle would cost between $4 million and $15 million depending on surveillance equipment and weapons.
In fact, General Atomics is seen as the pioneer of this sophisticated but deadly drone technology and could be indicative of a larger role the company wants to play in India and the Asia Pacific region. The company, which made its India debut in the defence expo held last year for the first time, is expected to participate at Aero-India 2015 to be held in Bangalore from February 18.
The Obama administration has been making efforts to relax strictures on selling less-sensitive military hardware to foreign countries, and in an effort to avoid losing a share in the rapidly expanding foreign unmanned aerial vehicle market. However, there is a growing trend where US companies are being proactive and trying to develop export versions of UAVs that are saleable. General Atomics did just that with its Predator XP, an unarmed version of the medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV flown by the US military.
There are already 4,000 different unmanned aircraft platforms in circulation in the global market, most built by US manufacturers, according to an IHS Industry Research and Analysis report.
Because of the extended range and carrying capacity of high-end UAVs like Global Hawks and Predators, they fall under a stringent set of controls that govern the international sale of cruise missiles. The MTCR requires exporters of systems that can fly farther than 300 km and carry more than 500 kg be licensed by both the state and commerce departments.
The Predator model on offer to countries including India is a stripped down version of MQ-1 armed drones the US military uses in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as in Iraq. But they are without the capability to carry missiles.