2 MQ-9B Spotted at Rajali Naval Station
Back in Nov 2020 when the Indo-China stand-off was on peak, Indian Navy has leased two non-weaponized Sea Guardian drones to enhance surveillance over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Indian Navy was able to lease the MQ-9B drones in just 37 days and on 38th day the drone was ready for mission. Impressed with its performance, Indian army, navy and airforce also want to jointly procure 30 armed versions of the American MQ-9B or Predator and the deal is projected around $3 billion USD.
Recently an image of MQ-9B Sea Guardian operated by Indian navy was shared on twitter by Damien Symon. The image dates back to April 2022 which shows 2 MQ-9B in Rajali Naval Station. Another image shows the massive range of these UAVs which is not only covering the entire stretch of Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea & Indian Ocean, the UAV is also capable of performing the ISR operation in Northern, Western and Eastern Fortier of India. With its wide range of sensors, high endurance and its low operating costs, the SeaGuardian can prove to be a complementary system for navies and air forces operating as maritime patrol aircraft.
These drones have emerged as a valuable surveillance asset for conducting reconnaissance of India’s maritime and land borders with China and Pakistan. Currently, Indian Navy uses MQ-9B for maritime surveillance from the Gulf of Aden to the Sunda Strait in Indonesia.
MQ-9B Sea Guardian Maritime Capabilities
The SeaGuardian RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) is a naval derivative of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian specifically configured for maritime ISR missions. The versatile RPA can perform varieties of missions such as Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Search and Rescue (SAR), Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and Borders surveillance and Law Enforcement. The sensor onboard Sea Guardian is what makes the UAV a potent ISR platform in Maritime domain.
A key part of its mission set is the Leonardo Seaspray 7500E V2 AESA radar mounted as a centerline pod with inverse synthetic aperture radar that can spot surface targets including ships, submarine periscopes, and people during search and rescue operations.
For ASW missions, the SeaGuardian can carry two to four sonobuoys dispensers under its wings. The package comprises podded sonobuoy dispenser systems (SDS), using a pneumatic launch system to launch 10 A-size or 20 G-size buoys from each pod, and a sonobuoy management and control system (SMCS). These sonobuoys have capability to transmit the detected submarine information to SeaGaurdian which then communicates it back to ground station via satcom link.
MQ-9B Sea Guardian specification
It has maximum endurance of 40 hours and can mount an eight-hour patrol at a radius of 1,200 nmi or 2200km. This explains the wide area coverage of these RPAs.
The armed version of the RPA can carry precession guided munitions over its 9 hardpoints: 8 under wing and 1 below the centerline.
The MQ-9B uses Leonardo’s Sage 750 pod to search, identify and track radars coming from both land sites and ships.
The RPA features Raytheon’s high-definition EO/IR system for Multi-Spectral Targeting System. It has also recently been integrated with an ESM/ELINT module.
Will India procure additional 30 MQ-9B?
India and US have been negotiating for this deal for almost six years. As an exception, the US government had cleared the offering of this armed capability to the first non-NATO ally. Last year, the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC) approved a proposal to procure MQ-9B drones equipped with surface-to-surface missiles. Under this, it was planned that India would purchase 30-armed Predator drones from the US. All the three branches of the armed forces were supposed to receive 10 drones each. There were news reported of putting this deal on back burner, however there is no official confirmation or statement from MoD on this. The procurement process has been slow, mainly due to the bureaucracy in the two countries. The next step is receiving a letter of request from MoD.