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General Atomics Ties Up With Bharat Forge To Build Aerostructures For Predator Series Combat Drones In India

Strategic partnership announced ahead of large Indian order for the world’s most advanced drones; BW Businessworld was the first to report Make in India agreement as deal enabler

Photo Credit : GA-ASI


The partnership in building the world’s most advanced combat drones is set to be a defining symbol of India-US military cooperation

Ahead of an expected Tri-service order for about 30 Predator series combat drones for the Indian armed forces, the manufacturer of these iconic unmanned aircraft, General Atomics of the United States has announced a “strategic partnership” with Bharat Forge to manufacture aerostructures for the world’s most lethal drones in India.

BW Businessworld was the first to report that India had negotiated for local assembly of the world’s most advanced High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) combat and reconnaissance drones of the Predator series as an “enabler” for the estimated $3 Billion deal for MQ9 Sea Guardian and the Sky Guardian remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).

“Bharat Forge’s expertise in the field of forging is known globally, and their outstanding contributions in the aerospace sector has inspired us to work together for building the next generation of the world’s most advanced unmanned aerial vehicles,” Dr Vivek Lall, Chief Executive, General Atomics Global Corporation, said. 

“GA-ASI is eagerly looking forward to working with Bharat Forge in the critical field of aerostructure manufacturing,” said Dr Lall. Part of the Kalyani Group, Bharat Forge is known for its expertise in engineering and metallurgy and has emerged as a prominent player in India’s Defence and Aerospace sector. 

The partnership with Bharat Forge will include manufacture of main landing gear components, subassemblies, and assemblies of remotely piloted aircraft, GA-ASI announced in San Diego on January 3. 

In a recent report, BW Businessworld had scooped the “enabling agreements” as deal sweeteners. “Through assertive negotiations, instant acquisition proposal has been leveraged for assembly of at least 60 % of the quantity of aircraft proposed for procurement in India,” Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar told Businessworld in an exclusive interview. 

A Tri-services case for the procurement of 30 MQ9B from the US under the Government-to-Government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route is under process.

Initially estimated at $3 Billion, the deal will also involve “collaboration with DRDO for transfer of certain niche technology required for indigenous D&D of HALE RPAS in India,” Admiral Hari Kumar disclosed to Businessworld. 

“Setting up of a Performance Based Depot Level Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO), Sea Guardian Global Sustainment Support (SGSS)” would be part of the programme, the Chief of the Indian Navy stated. 

“These enabling agreements along with the procurement case would make India a Drone Hub as envisioned by Hon’ble PM,” Admiral Hari Kumar added. 

Earlier, he had said that a discussion was underway amongst the three services on “whether the (procurement) numbers need to be rationalized”. 

When it matures, the MQ9B deal will be one of the defining symbols of India-US military cooperation. It will also mark the first assembly of the iconic combat and surveillance drone outside of the US.

“Aerospace is a high ‘Technology Intensive’ domain, which relies on Product Integrity, Reliability, and Zero Defect. This is a culture by itself and demands a strong focus on people and processes. As part of our Aerospace Growth Strategy, our collaboration with GA-ASI is a strong testimony of our culture in Bharat Forge Aerospace to assimilate and demonstrate the same, as partners to General Atomics, in making India Atmanirbhar (self-reliant),” Baba Kalyani, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Forge Limited, said.

“GA-ASI is confident that its collaboration with Bharat Forge will result in significant capability-building for both companies and provide an impetus to the Indian large, unmanned aircraft industry,” the American company stated. 

Admiral Hari Kumar recently acknowledged that the Indian Navy found the experience of taking two MQ9As on lease from the US of “great value”, expressing confidence that these RPAs would “provide great value to all three services”.

Recently, these leased drones completed 10,000 flight hours in support of Indian security missions. This was achieved in two years. 

“To put this into perspective, 11 P8I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft of the Indian Navy were able to fly 29,000 flight hours in 9 years while 2 MQ9A logged 10,000 flight hours in just 2 years. This is the true measure of a long endurance UAV: Persistent surveillance. Imagine what a fleet of about 10 MQ9Bs could do in exercising constant vigilance,” an observer pointed out. The original proposal envisaged an equal three-way split of the 30 HALE RPAs to be procured amongst the services. 

While ISR is bread and butter for this family of drones, it is the combat capability, over-the-horizon targeting, anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, defensive counter-air, airborne early warning and electronic warfare features which give it the edge. 

The MQ9B features nine hardpoints with a maximum external payload capacity of 2155 kg. “This enables armed forces and governments to easily integrate sovereign payloads and mission systems for their own uniquely tailored solutions,” General Atomics states. 

“The MQ-9B is designed to fly over the horizon via SATCOM for up to 40 hours in all types of weather and safely integrate into civil airspace, enabling joint forces and civil authorities to deliver real-time situational awareness anywhere in the world—day or night,” it is stated by General Atomics, the manufacturer, which terms these as “the next generation of RPAS, delivering persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) around the globe”. It can fly at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet.