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India in doubt on buying US combat drones over cost & functionality – reports

India in doubt on buying US combat drones over cost & functionality – reports
The Indian military has growing concerns that the US-made UAVs it planned to buy may not survive in the "contested" skies against its rivals and cost more than fully-armed fighter jets, local media says.

New Delhi has been planning to purchase 20 American-made MQ-9 Reaper combat drones (also known as Predator-B) for its air force and army, and several long-distance surveillance drones for its navy, Hindustan Times wrote on Sunday. The White House is said to have greenlit the sale last month.

However, the military now has doubts whether the deal is worth it, the outlet reports citing defense sources. According to the information, the air force has concerns about the potential performance of the drone in the contested airspace above disputed Kashmir and along the border with China.

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The paper says India’s doubts over the American UAVs were further reinforced last month, when Iran used a surface-to-air missile to shoot down a US Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk spy drone it said violated its airspace over the Gulf of Hormuz, which Washington denies doing.

Sources told the Hindustan Times that military officials are also dismayed by the Reaper’s price tag – around $100 million for one drone, and $100 million more if equipped with laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles.

A fully-armed drone will be “more expensive” than a French Dassault Rafale multi-role jet fighter “with all weapons and missiles on board,” a senior defense official was quoted as saying. Given these “circumstances,” India is considering purchasing more multi-role fighter jets instead, the source said.

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Relations between Washington and New Delhi have become more strained in recent years as the US attempts to pressure India into killing the deal to buy S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia. India insists on carrying on with the purchase and says it is free to buy weapons from whoever it chooses.

“We will not succumb to any pressure or influence in the matters of national security,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated on Saturday.

The country is currently seeking a waiver from the US, which would allow it to buy the S-400s without risk of violating American sanctions on Moscow.

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