The U.S. is close to selling armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to India and the legislative process for that is under way, a diplomatic source said. India has long sought the capability which could be used to target terrorist camps and launchpads across the border.
“A waiver is required to enable the sale of armed UAVs to India and the legislative process is under way. It is likely to be the big outcome of the India-U.S. two-plus-two dialogue to be held in July in Washington,” the source told The Hindu.
If the proposed sale of armed UAVs goes through, India would be among the rare few countries to be sold the high-end U.S. technology, even among closest US allies.
The dialogue, which got postponed, is likely to take place on July 6 and will be attended by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis.
A defence official said that this deal once announced would be a significant phase in the India-US defence cooperation and the highpoint of the Major Defence Partner (MDP) status conferred on India.
The US had earlier approved the sale of 22 Guardian unarmed long-range maritime reconnaissance UAVs after the Indian Navy expressed interest in them and made a formal request. The Guardian, which is the maritime variant of the Predator MQ-9 UAV, has a maximum endurance of 40 hours and a maximum flying altitude of 40,000 ft.
The wavier would enable India to go for the armed UAVs instead. However, the number of UAVs is expected to be slightly lesser. “It could be about 17 UAVs,” the source added.
President Donald Trump administration has recently approved a policy change simplifying the export of drones to allies.
The two-plus-two dialogue will also review the progress made on India signing the other two foundational agreements. The agenda for the two-plus-two dialogue is currently being finalised.