In the past, the US has refused to provide armed Predator drones to India, which have been used in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, for fear that New Delhi would turn the weapons against the Pakistanis at a time when Washington sought robust cooperation in the fight against Al Qaeda.
However, with the geopolitical landscape having shifted in recent years towards battling against Daesh in addition to improving relations between Washington and New Delhi in a bid to contain China, the US has signalled a willingness to provide India with lethal unmanned aerial vehicles.
The details of procurement of up to 100 armed Predator C Avengers for the India Air Force will be discussed with the outgoing US Secretary of State Ash Carter during his visit to India this December. If the deal goes through, it will make India the largest operator of this drone in the world after the United States.
Progress in talks has largely been made possible by India joining the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and being declared a "major defence partner" of the US. India formally applied for membership to MTCR in June of 2015, and with the support of the United States and France, became a member on June 27, 2016.
India may also discuss the purchase of 22 unarmed MQ-9 Predators during Carter's visit. The Indian Navy is looking to acquire more UAVs for its surface fleet. The Navy operates two squadrons of the IAI Heron and the IAI Searcher Mk-II UAVs purchased from Israel and plans to add at least two more squadrons.
Avenger drone includes stealth features such as internal weapons storage and will support weapons used on the MQ-9 Predator, the deadliest drone in the world. The Hellfire anti-tank missiles fired from the Avenger can strike targets eight kilometers distant. The Avenger also has the ability to detect and track targets across the Line of Control (LoC) and attack them while flying well within Indian airspace. It can fly for up to 18 hours to reach targets 2,900 km away.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is expected to point to Paksistan’s inaction against militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) that pose a direct threat to the national security of India in order to justify the transfer of drone technology.