U.S. Offers India Drones, Jet Engines to Lure It From Russia

India is set to purchase about $3 billion worth of MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones, upgraded versions of the Reaper, from the U.S.
India is set to purchase about $3 billion worth of MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones, upgraded versions of the Reaper, from the U.S.


  • Closer defense ties also aim to strengthen a regional rival to China

India is expected to purchase state-of-the-art U.S. drones and jointly produce jet-fighter engines in a multibillion-dollar deal designed to wean New Delhi off arms purchases from Russia.

The purchase is expected to be unveiled Thursday in Washington as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the White House on a high-profile visit that includes a formal state dinner. New Delhi had long sought some of the U.S.’s most advanced weaponry and equipment, but Washington was reluctant until now to share such sensitive technology because of India’s past, and continuing, purchases of Russian military gear.

The switch to greater cooperation stems from India’s strategic importance in the U.S. campaign to counter China, as well as American interest in stifling Russian influence in developing nations. India, despite U.S. pressure, has stayed neutral over Moscow’s war in Ukraine and refrained from United Nations votes to condemn Russia’s action and declining to join sanctions.

While the U.S. has been eager to enhance its relationship with India for years, political reluctance and bureaucratic inertia in Washington kept India from the most advanced weaponry it had long wanted. The deal suggests the beginning of a turning point in the relationship, analysts said.

The U.S. and India are also discussing strengthening ties between their militaries, including in logistics and intelligence-sharing, Pentagon officials said. U.S. ships could more frequently call at Indian ports, and the two militaries could hold more joint exercises, for example. Biden administration officials also have proposed other major commitments on technology, supply chains and clean energy. Those haven’t been announced yet.

Biden and Modi are expected to announce a series of agreements on technology, supply chains and clean energy, senior administration officials said, as part of a broader effort by the U.S. government to position India as a counterweight to China. The commitments cover a range of sectors, from artificial intelligence and supply chains to clean energy and global health.

Among them will be a commitment by India to join the Artemis Accords, a U.S.-led space exploration initiative, and enhanced space cooperation between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Indian Space Research Organization, senior administration officials said.

The U.S. will also solidify its partnership with India on shifting critical technology-supply chains away from China and other countries. Micron Technology, the U.S.’s largest memory-chip manufacturer, will invest more than $800 million toward a semiconductor facility in India.

“There is no partner more consequential now and into the future than India," a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday. “The nature, the depth and breadth of our deliverables for this summit is unprecedented."

Russia has sold nearly 20 times as much weaponry to India as the U.S. has over the past decade, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks the international arms trade.

India is poised to purchase upgraded MQ-9B Reaper drones, known as SeaGuardians, in a transaction worth about $3 billion, according to a senior U.S. official. A person familiar with the pending deal said India would receive more than two dozen SeaGuardians. The move will add to India’s intelligence capabilities, senior administration officials said.

In another key element of the deal, the two countries also will jointly manufacture General Electric F414 engines for India’s next generation of jet fighters, handing New Delhi highly sensitive military technology. The same engine is used in U.S. F-18 fighters, and the U.S.’s willingness to share the technology with India is seen as a sign of trust between the two countries.

“This is a trailblazing initiative," a senior administration official said.

“This will be remembered as a substantial leap forward in U.S.-India defense relations," said Jeff Smith, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.

The arms package was all but completed during a visit to India earlier this month by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who agreed on a road map for future defense cooperation with Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh.

Russia supplies about half of India’s defense needs, including ammunition, jet fighters, tanks and the S-400 air defense system. For years, the U.S. has pressured India to decrease its dependence on Russian arms dealers, although it has declined to punish New Delhi for the purchases.

It could be years before India’s reliance on Russia shows a significant reduction.

“I don’t think this is the floodgates opening per se," said Richard Rossow, chairman of U.S.-India policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. “But it does show if we drive real hard in particular areas, we can accomplish things we weren’t able to before."

Modi arrived in Washington on Wednesday as part of a multiday U.S. tour that included a group yoga session at U.N. headquarters in New York, where he also met with Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk. Modi attended a private dinner with Biden at the White House on Wednesday, and the two leaders are expected to deliver joint statements and take questions from reporters at the White House on Thursday.

The marquee event is a state dinner for Modi, one of Washington’s highest diplomatic honors and a lavish affair expected to draw a number of dignitaries and high-profile guests. Modi will be the third foreign leader Biden has hosted at a state dinner, after French President Emmanuel Macron and South Korean leader Yoon Suk Yeol.

The Indian prime minister also plans to address a joint meeting of Congress, which a handful of lawmakers have announced plans to boycott amid criticism over Modi’s human rights record. Many rights groups are protesting the Biden administration’s decision to roll out the red carpet for Modi, whose Hindu nationalist government has been accused of targeting religious minorities, cracking down on press freedoms and silencing its critics.

Biden administration officials have said they would continue to raise concerns over human rights and democracy with their Indian counterparts but the appearance of lecturing Modi in public would be counterproductive.

“Ultimately, the question of where politics and the question of democratic institutions go in India is going to be determined within India by Indians," Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters ahead of the visit. “It’s not going to be determined by the United States."

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