India is in talks with the United States to purchase 40 Predator surveillance drones. “We are aware of Predator interest from the Indian Navy. However, it is a government-to-government discussion,” Vivek Lall, chief executive of U.S. and International Strategic Development at San Diego-based General Atomics, told the media.
The push for the drones comes as U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter heads to India this weekend for talks to cement military collaboration in the final months of the Obama administration. Indian military officials said they expected the request for the armed aircraft to figure in Carter’s talks with his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar.
As defence ties deepen with the United States, which sees India as a counterweight to China in the region, New Delhi has asked Washington for the Predator series of unmanned planes built by privately-held General Atomics, military officials said.
According to reports, India is trying to equip the military with more unmanned technologies to gather intelligence as well as boost its firepower along the vast land borders with Pakistan and China. It also wants a closer eye on the Indian Ocean. New Delhi has already acquired surveillance drones from Israel to monitor the mountains of Kashmir, a region disputed by the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals and the cause of two of their three wars.
The U.S. government late last year cleared General Atomics’ proposal to market the unarmed Predator XP in India. It was not clear when the delivery of the drones would take place. The navy wants them for surveillance in the Indian Ocean, where the pilotless aircraft can remain airborne for 35 hours at a stretch, at a time when the Chinese navy is expanding ship and submarine patrols in the region.
India’s air force has also asked Washington about acquiring around 100 armed Predator C Avenger aircraft, which the United States has used to carry out strikes against Islamist militants in Pakistan’s northwest and neighbouring Afghanistan. But it would need clearance from the Missile Technology Control Regime group of 34 nations as well as approval from U.S. Congress before any transfer of lethal Predators could happen, officials said.
Washington wants India to sign a set of agreements including on the use of each other’s military bases that would help them operate together. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has signalled its willingness to move forward with the proposed pacts after the previous administration did not act for more than a decade.