Two top US Senators have asked the US Secretary of State John Kerry to approve with “utmost urgency” India’s request to buy unarmed Guardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) to improve its maritime surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean region.
“Guardian would aid the Indian Navy in meeting a vast spectrum of maritime security and maritime domain awareness challenges, such as maintaining freedom of navigation, maritime search and rescue, protection of commercial activity and disaster response,” Senators Mark Warner and John Cornyn wrote in a letter to Kerry.
Warner from the Democratic Party and Cornyn from the Republican Party are Co-Chairs of the Senate India Caucus – the only country-specific caucuses in the US Senate.
The two top Senators wrote the letter to Kerry days after the issue was discussed by Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar with the US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at the Pentagon on August 30.
It is understood that the Pentagon has extended its full support to the request made by India in this regard.
But a section of the State Department still needs to be convinced on this issue, informed sources said attributing this to a result of the strong Pakistani lobby here having launched a campaign against sale of unarmed Guardian drones to India.
In their letter dated September 2 – a copy of which was obtained by PTI today – the two Senators reminded the top American diplomat that improving India’s maritime domain awareness is a key priority in the Joint Statement released by Carter and Parrikar in April 2016.
Deepening cooperation in the field of maritime security and expanding maritime cooperation was also a key part of US-India Joint Statement issued by the US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 2015, they said.
“Guardian is the only RPAS system that would fulfill India’s maritime security and maritime domain awareness requirements,” they said.
“The maritime environment in which the Indian Navy operates is both vast and diverse. Guardian provides persistent 360-degrees wide areas surveillance and is capable of operating at high altitudes, avoiding changing and unpredictable weather patterns over the Indian Ocean and beyond,” the Senators wrote.
Cornyn and Warner argued that Guardian would enable increased US-India interoperability and would act as a force multiplier for our own forces in the region. “Finally Guardian is a non-weaponized maritime surveillance system and does not offer any lethal capabilities,” the two Senators wrote in an apparent reference to the arguments being posed by Pakistani advocates that these are armed drones.
“We believe strongly in our nation’s commitment to international non-proliferation regimes, including the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and are aware that the NTCR Guidelines calls for a ‘strong presumption’ of denial when considering export of items with Guardian’s range and payload capabilities,” the Senators wrote.
“However, we feel strongly that the export of this unarmed, surveillance-only platform, which would be used by a close ally in a manner that supports US national security interests, presents a convincing case to allow for overcoming that presumption,” they said making a strong argument against those opposing the sale of Guardian drones to India.
Expressing support for this potential sale, the two Senators urged the State Department to process the Indian request with the “utmost urgency” and with a “favorable outcome”, as a positive signal to India of the US government’s commitment to the bilateral relationship.