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India to seek weaponisation of 22 Guardian drones during Tillerson’s visit

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson will arrive on October 24, and will hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and NSA Ajit Doval.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2017 11:13 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Guardian UAV,Guardian,Guardian drone
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson will arrive in India on October 24.(REUTERS)

India plans to discuss weaponisation of the Guardian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson on October 25, during his visit to New Delhi as part of a five-nation tour of the subcontinent.

The US had formally submitted its “pricing and availability” proposal for the sale of 22 Guardian UAVs to India before defence secretary James Mattis’ visit last month. India hopes to use the high-altitude long-endurance drone to protect its 7,000-km-long coastline from potential infiltrators.

Tillerson is slated to arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday evening after flying from Pakistan. He will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and national security advisor Ajit Doval the next day.

Diplomatic sources in New Delhi and Washington told HT that Tillerson will review bilateral ties, besides focusing on terrorism emanating from the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, bilateral synergy in the Indo-Pacific zone and security concerns over North Korea.

While New Delhi remained tight-lipped on the defence acquisition, senior officials said the 22 UAVs – priced at around $3 billion – would be more cost-effective if they were weaponised.

The weaponised version of the Guardian is called the Sea Avenger, and it comes with a top-of-the-line synthetic aperture radar and an electro-optical targeting system for firing Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs.

Tillerson and Doval are expected to discuss several global issues, including the North Korean nuclear threat; terrorism in Pakistan; Qatar-Saudi Arabia discord; Indo-Pacific enhanced bilateral naval cooperation; and the future of the Islamic State.

The two sides will firm up their commitment to reconstructing and stabilising Afghanistan, and look at ways to bring the Taliban (minus Pakistan support) to the negotiating table. India will also urge Tillerson to put pressure on Pakistan to act against terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

“We are looking forward to Tillerson’s visit, and plan to take our bilateral relationship on the path defined by him in his speech at Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies on October 18,” said a senior South Block official.

First Published: Oct 24, 2017 07:25 IST