India-China standoff: How US drones along LAC can tilt the balance in India's favour against China

Amid tensions along the LAC with China, reports say India has requested for six MQ-9 drones from the US at the cost of $600 million.

India's Rustom drones

India has been a late starter in using drones as an attack strategy in modern warfare, in fact, the Rustom series is not a new phenomenon. It was initiated in the 80s by the DRDO by late Rustom Damania as part of operational requirement for the three services – Army, Navy and Air Force.

India's Rustom-1 drones were first tested in 2009, although it failed in its first attempt, crashing to the ground. In successive flights thereafter, Rustom-1 flew uninterrupted and is now part of Army’s arsenal but in 2020 with Chinese troops lurking along the Line of Actual Control(LAC), India's defence establishment has felt the need to not only just upgrade its drone technology but "upgrade" its attack capability as well looking out for US technology in the form of MQ-9 Reaper drones.

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India’s Rustom-2 drone

A few years ago, India had test-launched the Rustom-2 drone at Chalakere in Karnataka’s Chitradurga district. It was primarily meant for surveillance built on the US predator model. The Rustom -2 series was initiated keeping in mind India’s defence needs.

The “test-flight” was significant considering it was the first flight in “user configuration with higher power engine” which generally means it has an enhanced surveillance capability, some observers feel upto 24 hours.

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India would need upto 5,000 UAVs

However, India still hasn't entered the “big game” of attack drones which is dominated by Israel and the US. China on the other hand has a large, consistent integrated UAV project in place.

Reports say India would need upto 5,000 UAVs over the next 10 years – an extraordinary number given the fact the numbers at present with India’s defence forces is nowhere near it.

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China's Rainbow military drones

China on the other hand is not only ramping up its drone programme but has even started exporting them. China’s much touted Rainbow military drones were eyed by several countries including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and “10 other” nations.

A few years ago, the Iraqi defence ministry had released a video showing a Chinese made drone -CH-4B - carrying out a missile attack on an Islamic State target.

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US legislation leans towards India

Earlier in the year, the Trump administration has pressed ahead with its revamp of drone export policy under pressure from American manufacturers, Reuters had reported.

The MTCR classifies large drones as cruise missiles - and therefore subject to high export restrictions - making approvals rare, according to newswire Reuters.

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Drones outside MTCR bar

Under the reinterpretation, the United States says it will treat drones that fly under 800 kilometres per hour, including Reapers made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc and Global Hawks made by Northrop Grumman Corp, as if they belong in a lower category that falls outside MTCR jurisdiction. No longer subject to the MTCR’s high bar.

The move was made looking into the demands of several countries including India which now has a consistent defence policy with the United States
 

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US defence strategy

The Trump administration's arms policy is based on broad basing its defence strategy and allow countries like India which deal directly with China on all fronts to arm them with resources consistent with their demand.

Reinterpreting the MTCR is part of a broader Trump administration effort to sell more weapons overseas, according to a report by Reuters.

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India seeks to buy US drones

The US government has further overhauled its broad range of arms export regulations and removed the US from international arms treaties including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, the Reuters report said.

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US-made Reaper Drones

India has reasons to worry as China started commercial production of the deadly CH-5 Rainbow it says is better than the US-made Reaper Drones. The CH-5 is also available at half the cost, a dangerous precedent for India given its geopolitical scenario.

The US, on the other hand, has been on collision course with China on various fronts with the South China Sea being the most open area where the two superpowers have been battling to show there upper hand, although no shots have been fired and there are other nations at play as well trying to protect their interests from the ambitions of the Dragon, the US nevertheless has employed its most lethal third eye in the sky - the MQ-9 Reaper drone.

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MQ-9 Reaper

The sophisticated hunter-killer MQ-9 Reaper with its deadly hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 JDAMs is an all out modern weapon built for the kill.

The US had used the MQ-9 missile strike at Baghdad International Airport earlier this year which killed Iran's Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the commander of Iraqi Forces.

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India has also requested for six MQ-9 drones

According to reports, India has placed an order for 30 Reaper drones for its forces at the cost of $3 billion to the national exchequer.

Reports say India has also requested for six MQ-9 drones from the US at the cost of $600 million.

A report earlier in the year had stated that India had listed 22 MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) drones as a requirement for its forces. Now, with the volatile situation along the LAC, Indian defence authorities view the drones as a "gamechanger".

(Photograph:Reuters)

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