New Delhi: The Indian Navy has taken on lease two Sea Guardian drones from an American defence major to enhance surveillance over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) but the unmanned aerial vehicles can be deployed in the Ladakh region if the need arises, people familiar with the development said.
The two non-weaponised MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones have been leased for one year with an option of extending the period by another year, they said.
The lease of the two drones came in the midst of India's plans to procure up to 30 weaponised versions of the Sea Guardian drones from the US to bolster the Navy's overall surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region.
The hi-tech drones, manufactured by US firm General Atomics, arrived at the naval air station INS Rajali in Tamil Nadu earlier this month.
In September, the government unveiled a new defence acquisition procedure (DAP) under which the three services were allowed to take on lease military equipment, hardware and platforms like helicopters, simulators and transport planes and UAVs among others.
The leasing of the two drones came in the midst of the tense border row between India and China in eastern Ladakh.
A fleet of Poseidon 8I maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft was also deployed to carry out surveillance on the movement of Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh in the last few months.
"If there is a need, the two Sea Guardian drones can be deployed in Ladakh," said one of the persons cited above.
The P-8Is were also deployed to keep an eye on the movement of Pakistani troops after the Pulwama terror attack last year.