The flying workhorse
THE WEEK|October 03, 2021
Known for precision and reliability, the MQ-9 Reaper combat drones will boost India’s offensive capabilities
PRADIP R. SAGAR

ON JANUARY 3, 2020, US president Donald Trump took a brief break from his Christmas vacation at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to make a dramatic announcement. He told journalists that the US military had “successfully executed a flawless precision strike” that killed Qasim Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force that had allegedly injured or killed hundreds of American civilians and military personnel. “He was a monster, but he is no longer a monster,” Trump said. “He is dead.”

Apparently, the operation was as dramatic as the announcement. Two MQ-9 Reaper drones had taken off from an airbase in Kuwait, travelled 600km to hover over Baghdad International Airport. When the green light came, the drones launched the missiles which took out two cars that were leaving the airport. The attack killed Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of al-Hashd al-Shaabi (popular mobilisation forces), an Iran-backed militia in Iraq. The Reapers’ precision stunned the world.

Months earlier, Trump had cleared the sale of MQ-9 Reapers to India, making it the first non-NATO country to get the clearance. Now, India is concluding the acquisition process. The drones, also called Predator B, would be distributed among the three services —10 each for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. The Reapers come fitted with smart bombs and Hellfire missiles and will form part of India’s response to the Chinese combat drone Wing Loong II, which Pakistan is buying.

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