India is preparing to reach an agreement with the US company General Atomics to buy 30 Sky Guardian aircraft. Financial Express Online earlier reported that the Indian Navy had leased two drones from the company. These SeaGuardian drones have been deployed to land and sea operations in the wake of the clashes between the armies of India and China in 2020.
Talks about the drones from the US-based company were announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in 2017. These drones that the Indian armed forces are seeking will come in a different configuration.
These drones will help the Indian Navy (the lead service in this anticipated deal) to closely monitor any movement in the Indian Ocean.
Besides India, another QUAD member state – Japan has signed a contract with MQ-9B SeaGuardian aircraft.
In an exclusive interaction, Dr. Vivek Lal, CEO of General Atomics Global, shared an update on 30 drones for the Indian Armed Forces as well as the company’s global projects with Huma Siddiqui.
Here are excerpts:
India is in advanced stages of negotiations with the United States over armed SkyGuardian aircraft and has deployed two of your aircraft for various naval and land operations. What are the immediate ability improvements for all three services?
We look forward to a fruitful outcome of the talks between the two governments. In the meantime, we proudly continue to support the Indian Government’s mission and stand ready to support future developments. However, in connection with any particular capabilities, we recommend that you contact the respective services.
How will General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) meet the maintenance needs of India’s fleet of 30 aircraft?
General Atomics is looking at all options to better align and support the needs of the future Indian fleet. The nuances of maintenance and support depend on the issuance of Final Approval of Necessity (AON) and Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA), a process supported by both the US and Indian governments. As these two milestones progress, GA-ASI will work closely with all stakeholders to ensure the development and implementation of a maintenance strategy that ensures the program’s long-term success.
Can you provide details of Japan’s latest contract for the MQ-9B SeaGuardian aircraft?
We have been working with Japan for several years. Through a series of demonstrations we conducted jointly with the JCG, the JCG was able to get a clear picture of why our aircraft are useful. The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) will use SeaGuardian to conduct extensive maritime surveillance in support of missions such as search and rescue, disaster response and maritime law enforcement. We know that our system’s ability to provide affordable, long-endurance airborne surveillance with long-range sensors in the marine domain is unparalleled.
GA-ASI recently announced that it is working with two Belgian companies on the Blue Magic programme. Can you explain the features of this program please?
GA-ASI has been working with Belgian companies for a number of years now. In 2019, GA introduced a new event called “Blue Magic Belgium”. BMB has given us a way to establish a regular dialogue with the Belgian aerospace and technology suppliers. BMB enables us to connect and explore ways we can work together. We have now held three BMB events and have established relationships with several Belgian companies that support the development and growth of future technologies within our remotely piloted aircraft ecosystem. These initiatives are not only for the aircraft that will be handed over to the Belgian Ministry of Defense, but potentially across multiple technical sectors to include aircraft and other services we provide to our customers around the world.
There have been ads lately for Mojave, Sparrowhak and Gambit. Please clarify these products.
At the end of last year, we introduced a new capability called Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) as part of Mojave’s new line of drones. STOL enables forward base operations without the need for modular runways or infrastructure while still providing world-class carrying capacity and payload. Our UAS aircraft can land from STOL and take off from short, unimproved surfaces, such as dirt roads and dry riverbeds, while retaining the important endurance and tenacity advantages that GA-ASI aircraft are known for. These innovations make Mojave the best UAS for armed surveillance, attack and reconnaissance missions. In addition, the STOL capability opens up future options for large surface amphibious ships, opening up naval missions or naval support for special operations forces. We also announced the STOL package for the MQ-9B.
Earlier this year, we announced Gambit, an autonomous collaborative platform (ACP) designed through digital engineering to accelerate its time to market and reduce acquisition costs, and will provide expanded and enhanced sensing capability. The jet-powered UAS platform is being built for air dominance and will benefit greatly from advances in artificial intelligence and autonomous systems to be the future of unmanned teamwork. Working in tandem with manned aircraft, Gambit will enable combat pilots to see deeper into hostile airspace, detect threats first, and provide time and space for critical decisions and actions.
We are also working on the Sparrowhawk and other types of small UAS, designed to be launched and retrieved by larger UAS such as the MQ-9B SkyGuardian. The sparrowhawk and its brethren will extend networks to greater distances, and in some cases may even carry kinetic weapons capable of attack and defense. Their small size and low cost make them useful options for many high-risk tasks.