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India’s quest for armed drones gets a boost as US looks to ramp up arms sales

India is now looking at acquiring 6 armed drones from the US instead of the planned mix of 30 armed and non-armed drones. It is also in talks with Israel.

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New Delhi: India’s long quest for armed drones has received a boost from the US, which is looking at ramping up arms sales to New Delhi amid the ongoing stand-off with China in Ladakh.

Citing US officials and congressional aides, the Foreign Policy magazine reported Tuesday, “The Trump administration is looking to ramp up arms sales to India in the wake of the country’s deadly border clashes with China, opening a new front of tensions between Washington and Beijing”.

It quoted an unnamed Congressional aide as saying, “They’re going to want to provide India with armed [category-1] Predators.”

The development comes at a time when India is on a shopping spree to ramp up its firepower and surveillance capabilities as the ongoing tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are expected to continue well into the winter.

New Delhi has been in touch with countries like the US, France, Israel and Russia besides others for a host of equipment buys, including new assault rifles, drones, missiles, parachutes, ballistic helmets, ammunition and spares.

India has been keen on getting armed drones for a while and is in talks with both the US and Israel.

Sources in the defence and security establishment said the preference is for the American system – medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) armed Predator-B, also called the MQ-9 Reaper.

It is capable of carrying four Hell-Fire missiles and two 500 pounds of laser-guided bombs.

Sources said that rather than opting for a mix of 30 armed and non-armed drones from the US as originally planned, India is now looking at acquiring six armed drones. But it is also in talks with Israel.

Also read: Russia offers India Sprut lightweight tanks amid stand-off with China

Armed drones – Obama rejected and Trump approved

Over the past few years, India has remained highly interested in armed drones. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working on an armed version of Rustom Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

In December 2017, the then minister of state for defence Subhash Bhamre had informed Parliament that the government sent a letter to the US, seeking to purchase 22 MQ-9 Predator B Guardian maritime patrol remotely piloted vehicles from General Atomics for the Indian Navy.

“A request for Information (RFI) for Predator ‘B’ Sea Guardian was issued to the US Office of Defence Cooperation on November 14 and the response is awaited,” he had said.

The Obama administration had earlier turned down India’s request for an armed version of the Sea Guardian.

But this policy changed after the Trump administration came to power in 2016. It amended rules that restrict the sale of military-grade drones to foreign partners like India.

India moved a proposal to acquire 30 of these armed drones last year but the high cost, estimated to be over $3 billion, halted the deal.

However, with the tensions rising at the LAC, the IAF has been keen on armed drones. A proposal for possible procurement of half a dozen armed drones is in the works.

The Foreign Policy magazine said Trump has sought to increase arms sales worldwide, viewing it as a blunt instrument of US power around the world and an engine for job growth at home.

“The administration has even floated plans to end congressional review of U.S. weapons sales abroad to expedite the process, angering some lawmakers who view the review process as an important part of congressional oversight,” it said.

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