The Indian Navy has leased two MQ-9B SeaGuardian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from the United States to boost its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, in the midst of the border row with China in the Ladakh theatre, officials familiar with developments said on Wednesday.
The UAVs have been leased for one year, the officials said, asking not to be named.
The hi-tech UAVs are a variant of the Predator B drones manufactured by US firm General Atomics and have been based at the Naval Air Station Rajali in Tamil Nadu, where the Indian Navy's fleet of P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft is also based.
The UAVs arrived in India in early November and began undertaking missions last week, the officials said.
The MQ-9B is the first piece of military hardware to be leased by India after the government announced new weapon-buying procedures that allowed the option of leasing military hardware.
The Defence Acquisition Procedure-2020, which came into effect on October 1, permits the leasing of military hardware to cut down on costs associated with buying weapons and systems.
Capable of operating at an altitude of 40,000 feet, the MQ-9B UAVs have an endurance of 30 hours and a range of more than 5,000 nautical miles - capabilities that will allow the Indian Navy to keep vast areas of the Indian Ocean Region under surveillance, the officials said.
India plans to induct a total of 30 such UAVs, including armed versions, for the three services.