US eases export restrictions on unmanned drones, New Delhi to benefit

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Jul 25, 2020 11:37 AM IST

President Trump’s tweaking of the MTCR law pertaining to drones will pave the way for India to acquire Predator B armed drones.

President Donald Trump’s order on updated export restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), with the new speed limit of 800 kmph, will not only help its allies in the Middle-East facing the brunt of Chinese armed drones in Libyan theatre but will also help India acquire proven Predator-B armed and Global Hawk surveillance drones from the US. Both the top of line drones have speeds less than 800 kmph.

In this image, a fully armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Predator B is seen in mountains.
In this image, a fully armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Predator B is seen in mountains.

A statement issued by White House said, “The President has decided to invoke our national discretion to treat a carefully selected subset of missile technology control regime category I unmanned aerial systems (UAS), which cannot travel faster than 800 kmph as category II… This will increase our national security by improving the capabilities of our partners and increase our economic security by opening the expanding UAV market.” This policy change means that the UAVs under 800 kmph will no longer be subjected to the “strong presumption of denial” of the MTCR”.

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While the US defence contractors were restricted by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) UAS clause, the Chinese have been supplying Wing Loong armed drones to Pakistan and for use in the Yemen and Libyan civil war. According to intelligence reports, China has already supplied four Wing Loong armed drones to Pakistan for protection of the CPEC and Gwadar port. The drone, which has a limited track record, carries more than 1,000 kilograms of bombs or air-to-surface missiles. Neither China nor Pakistan are members of the MTCR, hence there is no restriction on Beijing to export these systems to Islamabad.

It is the introduction of Wing Loong into the Indian sub-continent which has prompted India to relook the acquisition of Predator-B drone, proven in Afghan and Iraq theatre, for the Indian military. The Predator-B is the armed version of Guardian drone, twenty-two of which have been approved for sale to India by the Trump administration. Predator B can carry four Hell-fire missiles and two 500-pound laser-guided bombs.

By tweaking the MTCR rules for UAS, President Trump has opened doors for India to acquire the armed drones as well as systems to counter them. The armed drones will also be available to US allies like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt who have acquired the Chinese armed drones.

As the cost of a Predator-B drone is no less than a fighter aircraft, the Indian Air Force may have to reduce its limit of manned fighters to create squadrons of armed drones within the present Cabinet sanction of 42 squadrons.

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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