US approves sale of armed drones to India
India is only the third country and the first non-NATO member country to have been offered the armed version of Guardian unmanned drones by the United States, the acquisition of which has been under discussion for almost a year now, according to people aware of the negotiations.
Technical briefings have taken place and discussion are now focussed on determining the number of drones that India would like to purchase, they said.
The only other countries offered the armed drones are the United Kingdom and Italy, both NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) partners of the US.
The United States had first offered General Atomics’ unarmed MQ-9 Guardian drones for maritime surveillance and approved the sale of 22 of them to India around the time of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June 2017 visit to Washington for his first meeting with US President Donald Trump.
But India was more interested in armed version of the drone — Predator-B — which the United States agreed to “about a year ago”, as had been reported by Hindustan Times (May 2018) and Reuters (July 2018).
Discussions have been on since.
There has been no progress, however, on the other US offers of Terminal High Altitude Area Defence and Patriot-3 missile defence systems, first reported by Hindustan Times, to dissuade India from purchasing Russian S-400s. India and Russia signed an agreement concluding the purchase contract for five S-400s for an estimated cost of $5 billion.
The United States has sanctioned China for its purchase of three Russian missile defence system under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and on Friday, announced it was cancelling the sale of F-35s fighter jets to Turkey for its plans to buy S-400s despite repeated US threats and appeals.
Indian purchases of US defence materials have gone up from zero in 2008 to $15 billion in 2019 and recent buys include MH-60R Seahawk helicopters ($2.6 billion), Apache helicopters ($2.3 billion), P-8I maritime patrol aircraft ($3 billion), and M777 howitzers ($737 million), according to the state department.
India was the first non-treaty partner to be offered a MTCR Category-1 Unmanned Aerial System – the Sea Guardian UAS manufactured by General Atomics. India asked for armed drones and now discussions are underway for its acquisition.