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Aero India 2023

'Predator' drone deal to bring countries to India's doorstep for MRO services: Ex-defence secy

NEW DELHI (PTI): Describing the defence agreements signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's US visit as "historic", former defence secretary Ajay Kumar said several countries using 'Predator' drones are likely to come to India for maintenance and overhauling.

India and the US inked a USD 3 billion deal for 31 High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs, of which the Navy will get 15 SeaGuardian drones, while the Army and the Indian Air Force each will get eight of the land version – SkyGuardian.

A joint statement by the two countries affirmed that these cutting-edge drones would be assembled in India, significantly augmenting the intelligence, surveillance, and target acquisition capabilities of the Indian Armed Forces.

"When the US sells such advanced equipment, they never agree to any manufacturing outside the country. But in this particular case, it has said that the Predator drones will be assembled here and a full MRO hub for these drones will be set up as well," Kumar said.

A full Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) means throughout the entire life cycle of these drones, their maintenance will be done in India, he added.

Emphasizing the significance of the General Atomics MQ-9B High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs, Kumar said countries such as the UK, France, Italy, Japan, Australia and Spain operate the MQ-9 system.

"Since Predators are a platform which other countries are also using, we can expect that in the future, some of the Predators from other countries will come for maintenance, repair and overhaul to India," he said.

On an MoU between General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for the GE414 fighter jet engines, the former defence secretary said the production of aero engines has been an area of deficiency for India and this agreement will prove to be a significant milestone towards the country's goal of developing its own jet engines.

"As regards the GE414 engines being manufactured in India with large-scale value addition, I think this is a historic moment. Aero-engine is one area where India has had a deficiency in the past and this is a major landmark in our journey to create our own aero engines and I think this is therefore, truly historic," Kumar said.

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