India which intends to expand its arsenal capacity with drones has now got a green signal from the Trump administration, to buy 22 MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B). The deal with the US is estimated to be $3 billion.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has agreed to export US-made lethal drones and unmanned aerial vehicles to India. Earlier, the Trump administration had also decided to ease exports of US-made lethal drones to its other allies. After making a decision to ease rules and regulations for the foreign sale of lethal drones and unmanned military aircraft, the Trump office has agreed to supply Predator drones to India, reported HT.
This move of by the US is an effort to promote President Trump’s “Buy Amercian” initiative and also to fight competition by the Chinese and Israelis. There is also a huge lobby by drone manufacturers in the US who wanted to push their products overseas. Earlier, reports had suggested that existing policy in the US was acting as a hindrance to export unmanned aircraft. So, the decision by the US to export lethal drones to India also comes with the new policy that the Trump administration is going to implement. The new policy will ease the unleashing of drones of all sizes to foreign nations.
A few months earlier, it was also reported that the US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis had urged the National Security Advisor to advise Trump to accelerate the policy shift to avoid loss of business. This is the first time that the US is opening up export avenues to many countries. This policy shift by the US is definitely an effort by the Trump administration to come out of its comfort zone, as the US had a long-standing taboo against selling its drones to countries that were not its most trusted allies.
This new policy shift and Trump’s confirmation to supply lethal drones to India is definitely beneficial to the Indian security forces. However, the decision now lies in the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The decision to acquire the Predator-B drones will be made based on the cost of the drone programme and budget allocated to it.
It was also reported that the matter of sales of lethal drones to India was brought up during the official level meeting attended by NSA Ajit Doval, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and defence secretary Sanjay Mitra. The matter is likely to be raised again during the two plus two dialogue between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, later this month.
The other potential buyers of the US-made lethal drones would include NATO members, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and also India. Human rights activists have lashed out at the Trump administration for trying to have such a policy shift, as they believe that the export of lethal drones would inflate violence in the regions of West Asia and South Asia.
What could this mean for India?
India which intends to expand its arsenal capacity with drones has now got a green signal from the Trump administration, to buy 22 MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B). The deal with the US is estimated to be $3 billion. The Predator B is UAV manufactured by General Atomics. It has a maximum speed of 300 km/hr, endurance limit of 14 hours, a range of 1800 km and can be operational up to 25,000 feet.
The changing military doctrines of the world has made it rather a compulsion for India to source its arsenal with drones. DRDO’s successfully carried out the test flight of Rustom II, a medium altitude and long endurance UAV at Challakere in Karnataka on February 25, 2018. Rustom II which is being developed by the DRDO on the lines of Predator B drones of the US. However, the drones would require stronger navigational satellite systems for military purposes.
India’s attempt to intensely militarise its arsenal with drones is certainly a welcome move. Unlike China’s agenda of exporting, India’s agenda to manufacture drones is for military and reconnaissance purposes. The need for armed drones along the border of Pakistan and China is not for mere strategic deployment. It also acts a deterrent of a sort to safeguard borders. Whether the deal with the US is going to be definitive is yet to be ascertained. But, it the new policy move and the green signal by the US is certainly a point more for India to equip itself with lethal drones. For India, it is not going to be Predator B vs Heron TP, rather it would be an opportunity to assure itself that it is not all by itself when against China and Pakistan.