Having struck a deal with Washington recently to purchase Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial Systems for the Indian Navy, the Narendra Modi government has now set its sights on acquiring jet-propelled Avenger Predator drones from the US for the Indian Air Force (IAF). The estimated requirement of IAF is for 100 drones, sources said, adding that if a deal — most likely with San Diego-headquartered General Atomics — goes through, its size could be around $8 billion.
Besides joint projects under the bilateral Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), in her first major engagement with a foreign counterpart, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman talks on September 26 with the US officials will focus on India-US defence cooperation, maritime security, avenger predator drones, counter-terrorism and other major issues of mutual concern, the sources added. Issues related to American defence companies seeking guarantees of retaining control of propriety and sensitive technologies in joint ventures under the “Make in India” policy, is expected to be raised by the US side.
As reported earlier by FE, the government had made a special official request for Sea Guardian drones “at the highest levels” in January this year and the Trump administration shepherded that through the inter-agency process in Washington DC as a deliverable for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June visit as this $2-billion deal is seen as unlocking the path to India being a major defence partner for the US. Renowned US aerospace scientist Dr Vivek Lall who was instrumental in over $10 billion of US defence sales to India and thereby changing the mix of Indian defense procurements primarily from Russia earlier, has been spearheading the initiative to concretise the US-India defence relationship.
Recent media reports have indicated that the Pakistan foreign ministry has objected to the Sea Guardian Predator sale saying it would upset the balance of military capability in the region. Pakistan had been lobbying at the state department prior to Modi’s visit to ensure the Sea Guardian is not offered to India in response to the latter’s request for such. The fact that the Trump administration did not take heed to Pakistan objections is a great diplomatic win for Modi. The visiting secretary is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Modi and national security advisor Ajit Doval on September 26.
Both countries have inked the logistics exchange memorandum of agreement (LEMOA), however, follow-on foundational agreements like the communication interoperability and security memorandum agreement (CISMOA) and the basic exchange and cooperation agreement (BECA) are still pending.