Under the terms of the deal, to be unveiled during President Barack Obama’s visit to Delhi starting Sunday, the Americans will end production of the 10-km range UAV at a US site and move production to a Bengaluru-based joint venture, which will become global supplier.
Seven countries have lined up to buy the UAV, currently built by US firm AeroVironment, with pending orders totalling $3 billion, a senior government official said. “Not only will the Indian company supply the remaining orders but jointly develop a 18-km extended range UAV with flying endurance increased from four to six hours,” he said.
The all-weather, all-terrain, battery-operated UAV is used to make the battlefield more “transparent” and to target enemy armoured columns and personnel. The other technology cleared for transfer to India is the “roll-on, roll-off” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance module for the Lockheed Martin-manufactured C-130 J transport aircraft to India.
This module converts the transport aircraft into a sophisticated long-range spy machine. The plane has the ability to land on unprepared short air strips, including paddy fields and has proven its worth as an air ambulance and in special forces operations. India has bought a dozen C-130 J “Hercules” aircraft over the past six years. The transfer of two technologies is expected to feature in the joint statement at the end of Obama’s visit.
According to US diplomatic sources, visiting US under-secretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics Frank Kendall reached closure on the two deals during his talks with national security advisor Ajit Doval, principal secretary Nripendra Misra and secretary (defence production) Mohan Kumar. With President Obama and defence secretary Ashton Carter directing Kendall that India was to be given transformative defence technologies as it was a close strategic partner and ally, the two sides have also identified other defence technologies to be jointly developed and co-produced.
More technologies will be cleared during Kendall’s next visit to India on February 23. That the Americans are keen to partner India is evident from the fact that Kendall has set up a special group under India desk head Duncan Lang to fast-track technology transfer and licensing.