In November 2020, the Indian Navy received two Sea Guardian drones from the US which boosted India’s capability to monitor activities of Chinese ships and submarines inside the Indian Ocean. Interestingly, the Indian Navy has taken this Sea Guardian drone on lease which marks the first-ever incident of leasing military hardware by the Indian Armed Forces.
This sudden and secretive leasing of these drones is due to an alarmingly high number of Chinese Navy ships visiting the Indian Ocean each year that have threatened India’s maritime security interests. Sea Guardian drones are a maritime version of famed General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drones of the US Air Force that have been at the forefront of the ‘War on Terror’.
In past, Predator drones have been used in numerous drone strikes against terrorist havens in Pakistan and for obliterating ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Libya.
After the immense success of the Predator drone, its maker the General Atomics decided to produce a naval version of the Predator drone. The result of this quest was the Sea Guardian UAV which retained the impressive flying performance of the original Predator drone and used it to become a deadly naval ISR platform.
Thanks to Predator pedigree, the Sea Guardian drones can remain airborne more than 40 hours at 40,000 feet giving these drones much more on-station time than manned patrol aircraft like Boeing P-8 Poseidon while costing a fraction in terms of the acquisition, fuel, and maintenance costs. Like Predator drones, Sea Guardian can be controlled using satellite links that provide long-range horizon capability which extends its own surveillance bubble. The Sea Guardian system retains flexibility by using a containerized Ground Control Station (GCS) for flying the Sea Guardian drones. These control stations are just the size of the normal shipping container and can be moved at short notice.
Sea Guardian has an impressive array of payloads for performing anti-ship and anti-submarine roles. The most important payload of the Sea Guardian drone is Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) that can track ships from more than 80 kilometers away. For catching images of small boats like the one used by terrorists in the 26/11 Mumbai Attack and which are not visible to most radars due to clutter, Sea Guardian uses SeaVue Expanded Mission Capability (XMC) radar. As EO/IR payload, Sea Guardian carries cutting-edge Raytheon Intelligence & Space Multi-Spectral Targeting System that can be used as a camera in all light conditions including infrared besides also working as laser designator and laser illuminator. This feature allows, Sea Guardian drones to paint targets for strikes by dedicated maritime strike platforms. For intercepting enemy communication and resisting enemy jamming efforts, the Sea Guardian drone has Leonardo’s SAGE 750 ESM/ELINT system.
Besides these impressive payloads, These drones also has a unique capability to avoid collision with any aircraft and therefore it can be flown alongside civilian aircraft. Earlier, Predator drones required dedicated air corridors or unrestricted military airspace for performing their mission as due to relatively smaller size Predators were often invisible to civil airliners that neither carry radars nor can maneuver fast enough to avoid a collision.
It was due to unrivaled capabilities, Indian Navy decided to lease these drones even before a much larger India-US deal for 30 Predator UAVs can be inked. Currently, the Indian Navy has deployed both Sea Guardian drones at Andaman and Nicobar Islands from where they can track Malacca, Lombok, and Sunda straits which are essentially all routes that can be used by Chinese Naval ships for entering the Indian Ocean.
Finally, Team Guarding India hopes that this Sea Guardian drone will prove to be invaluable platforms for the Indian Navy and will continuously track Chinese ships and submarines trying to sneak inside the Indian ocean. We also expect Indian Navy to renew the lease of Sea Guardian drones until the India-US deal for 30 Predator drones is inked.