MoD says cost of drone deal with US yet to be firmed up, trashes social media reports on price

New Delhi: India is yet to finalise the cost and specific terms of purchase of 31 MQ-9B long endurance drones from the US and it will examine the “best price” offered by the manufacturer to other nations before concluding the procurement, the defence ministry said on Sunday while trashing reports in a section of social media on the price as well as the acquisition process.

It said the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) accorded to the procurement by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) noted the estimated cost of USD 3,072 million (one million=10 lakh) as provided by the US government, adding the price will be negotiated once policy approval from Washington is received.

The DAC headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on June 15 accorded the AoN or initial approval for acquisition of 31 MQ-9B High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones from the US under the foreign military sale (FMS) route.

The AoN included the number of unmanned aerial vehicles to be procured along with associated equipment.

India and the US firmed up the drone deal during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s high-profile visit to Washington.

The defence ministry, in a statement, described the reports in social media on the price and the terms of purchase relating to the drones as “speculative” and said they are being spread with “ulterior motives”.

“These are uncalled for, have ulterior motives and aimed at derailing the due acquisition process. The price and other terms and conditions of the purchase are yet to be finalised and subject to negotiations,” it said.

“In this regard, all are requested not to spread fake news/misinformation which can have serious impact on the morale of the armed forces and adversely impact the acquisition process,” it added.

The Sea Guardian drones are being procured for the three services as they can carry out a variety of roles, including maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare and over-the-horizon targeting among others.

While the Navy will get 15 Sea Guardian drones, the Indian Air Force and the Army will each get eight Sky Guardian drones.

The ministry said it will compare the acquisition cost of the drones with the “best price” offered by manufacturer General Atomics (GA) to other countries and that the procurement process would be completed as per the laid down procedure.

“The AoN noted the estimated cost of 3,072 million US dollars provided by the US government. However, price will be negotiated once policy approval of the US Government is received,” it said.

“The Ministry of Defence (MoD) will compare the acquisition cost with the best price offered by General Atomics (GA) to other countries. The procurement is in progress and would be completed as per the laid down procedure,” it added.

The ministry said under the foreign military sale (FMS) route, a Letter of Request (LOR) would be sent to the US government where tri-services requirements, details of equipment and terms of the procurement would be included.

“Based on the LOR, the US government and MoD will finalise the Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) where details of equipment and terms of the procurement would be negotiated and finalised in accordance with the FMS programme and the price and terms offered by the US government and GA to other countries,” it said.

The high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) drones are capable of remaining airborne for over 35 hours and can carry four Hellfire missiles and around 450 kg of bombs.

In 2020, the Indian Navy had taken on lease two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from General Atomics for a period of one year for surveillance in the Indian Ocean. The lease period has been extended subsequently.