Predator drone deal: Congress poses seven questions for govt to answer
The Congress party claimed that what happened in the Rafale deal was being repeated in the Predator drone deal with the US
The Congress party on Wednesday raised concerns over the cost of India's acquisition of Predator drones from the United States, claiming that the country is paying more than other nations. According to the party, other countries acquired the same drones for less than four times India’s price.
As per media reports, India has entered into a deal to purchase 31 Predator drones for approximately $3 billion, equivalent to around Rs 25,000 crore, which implies that each drone costs Rs 880 crore. Besides coming out with a statement alleging the outdated tech was being purchased for four times the price, the Congress party also raised seven crucial questions for the government to answer.
The questions posed to the government include why there was no cabinet committee on security meeting to approve the drone deal. Why is India paying more than the price for a drone, as compared to other countries, why are we paying the highest price for a drone which does not have AI integration? When the air force had reservations about the skyrocketing prices of these drones, then what was the tiering hurry to have a deal? Indeed, it would have happened post negotiations of the pricing, and other technical specifications, including an AI integration.
What happened to Make in India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat in defence? Why was Rs 1786 crore spent on the development of TAPAS BH 201 by DRDO if there wasn’t any intention to manufacture these drones for domestic usage, and if India was willing to pay US$ 100 million/drone made by General Atomics USA?
Why is there only an 8-9 per cent technology transfer from the US for the deal? On 20th December 2017, the government, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha, the MoS defence said that “procurement of Predator ‘B’ Sea Guardian is being progressed under Buy (Global) category and no transfer of technology is envisaged.”
Would the Modi government now clarify why India never envisaged technology transfer for these drones? In April 2023, the armed forces informed the Modi government that the requirement for Predator drones is 18 and not 31. Then why is the Modi government buying 31 drones now? What are the links of General Atomics's CEO with the ruling establishment's influential figures?
Addressing a press conference, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera remarked, "What happened in the Rafale deal is repeated in the Predator drone deal with the US. Other countries are purchasing the same drones at less than four times the price. India is buying 31 Predator drones for $3 billion, which is Rs 25,000 crores. We are buying a drone for Rs 880 crores."
The Congress party responded to recent social media reports and followed the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) statement refuting the price and purchase terms mentioned in those reports.
The MoD dismissed these reports as baseless and claimed that individuals planted them with ulterior motives. The ministry emphasised that such reports aimed to disrupt the acquisition process and urged the public not to spread fake news or misinformation, which could adversely impact the morale of the Armed Forces.
On June 15, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approved the acquisition of 31 Predator drones, known as MQ-9B drones, from the USA for the tri-services. Under this approval, 16 Sky Guardian and 15 Sea Guardian drones will be procured through the foreign military sale (FMS) route.
The procurement process involves sending a letter of request (LoR) to the US government, specifying the requirements of all three services, equipment details, and terms of procurement. The US government and the MoD will then finalise the letter of offer and acceptance (LOA), which will outline the equipment details and terms of procurement based on the FMS program. The final price of the drones for India will be negotiated once the US government grants policy approval. The Defence Ministry will compare the acquisition cost with the best price offered by General Atomics (GA) to other countries.
Predator drones have an endurance of up to 36 hours and can be utilised for targeted monitoring of specific areas of interest. These drones will be deployed at three major hubs across India for surveillance purposes, including monitoring the borders with China and Pakistan. One of the hubs will be stationed in the North or Northwest region, another in the north-eastern region, and the INS Rajali will serve as one of the deployment locations, where two Predator drones were already leased in 2020-21 during the border clashes with China.