The Navy has for the first time inducted two surveillance drones through a lease agreement with an American firm, using the emergency powers granted by the Centre to the Armed Forces amid the China standoff, sources said.
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), unarmed versions of the SeaGuardian Predator drone, have been leased for a year from US-based General Atomics Aeronautical.
Sources in the Navy said the drones had arrived in the first half of the month, and have done a sortie each already. They are “meant for carrying out surveillance in the Indian Ocean Region and can be deployed on the China border if asked for and if needed,” a senior Naval officer said, comparing them to the use of the Navy’s P8I Poseidon aircraft in Ladakh.
The drones have been deployed at INS Rajali, or the Arakkonam Naval Air Base in Tamil Nadu, from where it will carry out surveillance operations in the Indian Ocean Region. The move comes at a time India is involved in a tense standoff with China in eastern Ladakh, and all three forces, including the Navy, are on an alert.
The officer said that for the year-long lease, “the complete operations and operational control will remain with the Navy” and asserted that all the data and other information belonged to the force. The officer said the manufacturer “is there as a supporting role, to make sure it functions as it is meant to”.
Sources said this is the first time the Navy has taken drones on lease. The process to buy ten such drones has been under process for several years now, but is still stuck in the initial stages. These sources said that apart from Navy, both the Army and the Air Force also want ten of these drones each. The Navy officer quoted above said: “It’s been pending for quite some time. There is no consensus between Navy and Air Force, and the cost factor was being debated.”
A source said Joint Services Qualitative Requirements were being formulated for the drones’ acquisition, but “it is not at any stage where we can say it will happen anytime soon”.
Till the time the government approves buying the drones, which has to get the Defence Acquisition Committee’s nod, “leasing is more economic and viable option”, the officer said. The contract for the lease has been signed with the maker directly, sources said.
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