On November 22, 2022, the MQ-9A Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) owned by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) and leased to the Indian Navy, completed its 10,000th flight hour in support of India’s national security operations. Two MQ-9As that the Indian Navy flies have collected 10,000 flight hours in exactly two years, as the first MQ-9A Reaper flight occurred on November 21, 2020.
GA-ASI provides MQ-9As to India in the context of a Company-Owned, Company-Operated (COCO) lease agreement.
Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI, said that the Indian Armed Forces were impressed by the MQ-9A’s over-the-horizon ISR support for surface troops and Indian warships, as well as the platform’s remarkable endurance and operational availability. He noted that GA-ASI MQ-9As had helped the Indian Navy cover more than 14 million square miles of the operational area.
During the most recent escalation in hostilities, the MQ-9 was also deployed to the border with China.
The company release may have mixed up the designations for the variant supplied to India. GA-ASI said in a 2019 press release that it has partnered with Sankhya Infotech Limited to study Simulation Training and related initiatives supporting India’s SeaGuardian RPAS programme. The goal of the collaboration is to modify RPAS crew training to meet Indian regulations. On the page dedicated to leasing RPAs, the business notes that the Indian Navy operates two MQ-9B Pre-Production (PP) SeaGuardian aircraft.
The first flight of the turboprop-powered, multi-mission MQ-9A Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) took place in 2001. It is based on Predator RPA. The United States and Royal Air Forces first referred to the MQ-9A as the “Reaper,” although the phrase “Predator B with weapons” is now more often used.
The MQ-9A has an endurance of nearly 27 hours, speeds of 240 KTAS, a maximum operating altitude of 50,000 feet, and a payload capacity of 3,850 pounds (1746 kilogrammes), which includes 3,000 pounds (1,340 kilogrammes) of external supplies. Additionally, the MQ-9A can operate at a maximum operating altitude of 50,000 feet. The cargo capacity of the aeroplane has increased by a factor of 500, and it possesses nine times the normal amount of power. It provides the warfighter with the capability of long-term, persistent monitoring and strike operations.
The MQ-9A is equipped with a fault-tolerant flight control system and a triple redundant avionics system architecture, all of which contribute to the aircraft’s high level of dependability. It meets the reliability standards for manned aircraft.
MQ-9A is flown with a Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop engine equipped with Digital Electronic Engine Control (DEEC), which significantly improves its performance and fuel efficiency, particularly at low altitudes.
The aircraft is highly modular, and it is possible to modify it with various payloads to meet a particular mission’s requirements. MQ-9A can carry payloads like the Lynx Multi-mode Radar, Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR), Electronic Support Measures (ESM), laser designators, multi-mode maritime surveillance radar and a range of armament.
The MQ-9A continues to develop and advance, which makes it more suitable to meet the ever-changing requirements of its customers. The MQ-9A Extended Range (ER) was designed with features that can be retrofitted in the field. These features include wing-borne fuel pods and a redesigned strengthened landing gear. These features increase the aircraft’s operating flexibility and bring the aircraft’s already excellent endurance up to 34 hours, up from 27 hours. The MQ-9A has been sold to the United States Air Force, the United States Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the Royal Air Force, the Italian Air Force, the French Air Force, and the Spanish Air Force.
India plans to acquire MQ-9B Drones
The projected acquisition of a fleet of MQ-9 drones from the United States is in the works, according to the chief admiral of the Indian Navy on December 3. The numbers are currently being rationalised, he said.
The original plan was to buy 30 ‘armed’ MQ-9B drones for about $3 billion to bolster India’s monitoring apparatus along its border with China and the Indian Ocean region. The Indian Navy has submitted a request to acquire armed drones, and all three services will likely receive ten drones each.
MQ-9B SkyGuardian is designed to fly via SATCOM for up to 40 hours in all weather conditions and safely integrate into civil airspace, allowing combined forces and civil authorities to provide real-time situational awareness anywhere in the world, day or night. The drone is equipped with the innovative Lynx Multi-Mode Radar, an advanced electro-optical/infrared sensor, autonomous takeoff and landing, and a wingspan that is 79 feet longer than its predecessors by 24m. SkyGuardian connects easily with its users and their equipment, expanding RPAS tasks in support of the Armed Forces and civil authorities.
The drone can be outfitted with bolt-on/bolt-off SeaGuardian mission kits for naval operations, such as Anti-Surface Warfare, Airborne Mine Countermeasures, and Anti-Surface Warfare. Japan Coast Guard operates MQ-9B maritime surveillance configuration (SeaGuardian). It is anticipated that the Indian Navy will be the first customer for the full-fledged MQ-9B SeaGuardian variant.