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Business News/ News / World/  Ahead of PM Modi's visit, US urging India to seal major armed drone deal: Report
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Ahead of PM Modi's visit, US urging India to seal major armed drone deal: Report

It is anticipated that discussions between Modi and Biden will also encompass topics such as the co-production of munitions and ground vehicles, including armored personnel carriers, as per the sources.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden meets with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo (REUTERS)Premium
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden meets with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo (REUTERS)

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to Washington, the Biden administration is urging New Delhi to overcome bureaucratic obstacles and expedite a contract for a significant number of armed drones manufactured in the United States.

As reported by Reuters citing sources, with Prime Minister Modi's visit date set, the U.S. State Department, Pentagon, and White House have requested India to demonstrate visible progress on the deal involving the procurement of up to 30 MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones manufactured by General Atomics.

India has shown keen interest in procuring large armed drones from the United States for years. However, the progress of the deal for SeaGuardian drones, which holds a potential value of $2 billion to $3 billion, has been impeded by bureaucratic hurdles.

U.S. negotiators are counting on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's White House visit on June 22 to break the log jam.

It is anticipated that discussions between Modi and Biden will also encompass topics such as the co-production of munitions and ground vehicles, including armored personnel carriers, as per the sources.

Spokespeople for the White House, Department of State and the Pentagon declined to comment on the negotiations.

President Joe Biden has prioritized strengthening the relationship with India as a key element of his strategy to counter China's increasing influence. This year, particular emphasis has been placed on enhancing cooperation between the two largest democracies in the world regarding advanced military technologies, despite the absence of a formal security alliance between them.

New Delhi, known for its stance of non-alignment in global conflicts involving major powers, has caused frustration in Washington by maintaining certain defense and economic relationships with Russia despite the latter's invasion of Ukraine.

Resolving the bureaucratic obstacles in India regarding the drone deal relies on an internal meeting that aims to produce an "Acceptance of Necessity" document. This document serves as an Indian prerequisite to the formal "Letter of Request," which initiates the foreign military sale process. However, as of Tuesday, the sources were uncertain whether New Delhi had completed the required internal document.

"That's gonna be a decision that the government of India needs to make," said a senior Biden administration official. "We think it would be good for them to go through with the purchase of MQ-9s. But those decisions are sort of more in the hands of India than they are of us."

The topic was expected to be on the agenda as Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday to finalize preparations ahead of Modi's visit.

According to a knowledgeable source, as of last week, India's defense ministry had not yet reached a final decision regarding the quantity of drones it intends to purchase.

Initially, the number under consideration was 30, but it was later reduced to 24 and subsequently further lowered to 18 last month. It should be noted that none of these figures have been confirmed as the final number. Additionally, India is seeking to have certain components of the equipment manufactured domestically, which could potentially add complexity to the deal.

The Quad alliance, consisting of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, has all utilized or been involved with the MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones. Presently, India is leasing MQ-9B drones for intelligence-gathering purposes.

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Published: 14 Jun 2023, 06:55 AM IST
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