India Seeks Avenger Drone From U.S. To Boost Capability Against Pakistan, China
By Arming India Correspondent
NEW DELHI, NOV.10, 2015: India is now seriously pursuing the purchase of the hi-tech 'Avenger' armed drone from the U.S. that could enhance its capability to hit targets anywhere inside Pakistan or deep inside China, drastically altering the security dynamics in the region that is home to the three nuclear-armed nations. The purchase offer from India is all set to be taken up by Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar when he visits the U.S. in early December to hold talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter.
If India manages to get the remotely-piloted Avenger, India would become the first nation outside the U.S. to possess the armed drone previously called the Predator C. This will also provide Indian security top brass the option of taking out terror camps and targets, without having to worry about downed pilots being captured by the enemy.
Targeting terrorists and their camps inside a neighboring nation's hostile territory is a military move New Delhi has been hesitating to take since the Nov.26, 2008 Mumbai attacks by 10 Pakistan-origin terrorists, but is now being increasingly talked about as a possibility after the cross-border strike by the Indian Army commandos to eliminate militants from India's North-East, hiding deep inside Myanmar territory, in June.
India once again made the demand for the Avenger in September this year, during U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Frank Kendall's visit to New Delhi to discuss the growing defense trade and technology cooperation between the two nations, and followed it up with a letter to the drone's manufacturer, San Diego-based General Atomics, to explore the sale. Arming India has seen and reviewed the letter dated Sep.24, 2015 from the Indian Air Force headquarters addressed to General Atomics and signed by the principal director for Air Staff Requirements.
Similar requests had been made by India, through Indian and American diplomatic and military channels at least five times previously beginning March 2010, the letter stated, noting that all the while the U.S. had pointed out to the export controls imposed on such technology and its sale by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). It sought a quick untangling of the MTCR and American license control knots.
"General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. is aware of India's interest in Predator-series Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA)," General Atomics' Chief Executive for U.S. and International Strategic Development Dr. Vivek Lall told Arming India in an October email interview.
Avenger can fly at maximum altitudes of 50,000 feet for up to 18 hours and touch speeds of 400 knots through air speed (KTAS) or 460 miles an hour. Its significant payload capacity enables it to carry multiple sensors, while its internal weapons bay can house 3,500 pounds of precision munitions. In 2016, an extended range variant of Avenger will be available which will feature a 76-foot wingspan and increased fuel capacity that will increase the aircraft's endurance to 20 hours, General Atomics said on its website.
The Predator-series also include the Reaper armed drone that are now is service with several nations outside of the U.S., including close ally, the United Kingdom. These drones can perform land border and maritime surveillance, and attack roles. The drones have been extensively used by the U.S. to take out Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorist, targeting them at location inside Afghanistan and Pakistan in the recent years.
Hurdles To Cross At MTCR, U.S. Administration
However, before India could lay its hands on the Avenger it has to obtain membership of the MTCR, which ended its 2015 plenary at Rotterdam in The Netherlands on Oct.9 without a positive decision on India's application. However, the MTCR statement after the plenary said all new membership questions would continue to be on the agenda of the 34-nation grouping that sets rules for international sale and transfer of missiles and its technology.
Ahead of the MTCR plenary, the U.S. had affirmed its support for India's membership in the MTCR, apart from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and in the other global non-proliferation export control regimes, This was explicitly mentioned in a joint statement issued on Sep.22 after the first U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in Washington D.C. among U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker with India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman
The sale of the Predator-series of drones to India is also contingent upon the U.S. government approving the export to India, according to Lall. "The General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. remains very encouraged by the recent India-U.S. bilateral engagements at the highest levels and we are hopeful that we can play an important supporting role in these discussions," he said.
The MTCR membership for India did not go through at Rotterdam due to Italy's opposition, media reports during the plenary days said, obviously due to its anger over India's position on its two Marines arrested by Kerala police on murder charges over the killing of two fishermen in the Arabian Sea in February 2012. The U.S. is working on Italy to steer it towards supporting India's membership to the MTCR, and the membership could be approved in a special MTCR session before March 2016 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit the U.S. for summit meeting with President Barack Obama, according to sources in the two nation's diplomat community.
Predator-series drones can provide India with Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability, including high-definition radar and Electro-Optical and Infrared coverage along India's borders. Additionally, the drones can perform humanitarian aid/disaster relief surveillance over both land and sea.
"The aircraft can perform medium-altitude, wide-area surveillance along India's extensive terrestrial and marine borders. Extremely safe and reliable, Predator-series RPA have been updated with state-of-the-art technologies, including an automatic takeoff and landing capability, redundant flight control surfaces, enhanced avionics, and triple-redundant flight control computers," Lall said in the interview.
India's army, air force and navy currently have the Israeli Searcher-II and Heron ISR drones in their inventory, apart from Harop Kamikazi-style self-destructing combat drones in service. But the Predator-series provide ISR capability that is fully interoperable with the U.S. forces and the U.S. military platforms, in the Indian military's aircraft inventory.
The Avenger would provide India with a definitively superior armed drone capability, it is expected. Pakistan, on Sep.7, used its 'Burraq' armed drone for the first time to take out three militants in its own territory in Shawal Valley, according to a tweet from Inter Services Public Relations chief Maj.Gen. Asim Bajwa. China's Chengdu Aircraft Corporation's Tia Yi drone resembles the MQ-9 Reaper, but its capabilities are not publicly known yet. China's Shenyang Aircraft Corporation is also developing its aircraft carrier-killer drone called the Shen Diao. India is developing its AURA unmanned armed drone at its Defense Research and Development Organization.
Ready For India Tie-Up For New Technology
GA-ASI, Lall said, is also committed to developing a Detect and Avoid (DAA) capability for its RPA and is seeking Indian industry collaboration.
"We are currently developing a DAA system for Predator B, enabling it to successfully detect and avoid cooperative and non-cooperative aircraft. It has most recently accomplished this task during a series of flight tests conducted in conjunction with the FAA and NASA," he said in the interview.
"GA-ASI is very interested in opportunities to work with new international industrial partners. We focus on identifying those opportunities that leverage the strengths and growth capabilities of new partners to enhance the already impressive capabilities delivered by Predator-series RPA," he said.
Lall has previously served in India as the vice-president and India country head for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems and it was during that tenure of his that the company submitted its bids for the Apache and Chinook tenders of the Indian Air Force. Boeing and the U.S. government signed the contracts for the two helicopters worth $3.1 billion on Sep. 28 this year.
Boeing had also managed to bag orders worth $8 billion during his tenure with the company in India between May 2007 and April 2011, including those for C-17 heavy-lift aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF), P-8I multi-mission maritime aircraft for the Indian Navy and Harpoon missiles for both the IAF and the Navy.
He was among the CEOs that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met and had dinner with in San Jose during his September visit to the U.S. where he also met with the Google and Microsoft CEOs.
Before joining General Atomics, he was heading the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries' aerospace venture between April 2011 and August 2014.