HomeAatmanirbhar BharatUS drone sales to India: Biden admin says routinely consult with members...

US drone sales to India: Biden admin says routinely consult with members of Congress to address any ‘questions’ before formal notification

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The US did not comment on a media report that it has put a hold on the proposed sale of 31 armed drones to India under a USD 3 billion deal but said it routinely consults with members of the Congress to address any “questions” over the arms transfer process before a formal notification, which is still pending. State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller also said the proposed mega drone deal announced during the historic State Visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi here last June offers significant potential to further advance bilateral strategic technology cooperation and military cooperation in the region.
Under the USD 3 billion deal, India will get 31 High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs, of which the Navy will get 15 SeaGuardian drones, while the Army and the Indian Air Force will get eight each of the land version – SkyGuardian.

Miller was responding to a question on an Indian media report that the Biden administration has put a hold on the sale of armed drones to India pending the investigation of the allegations of an Indian official involved in the alleged plot to kill a Khalistani separatist.

US federal prosecutors here in an indictment unsealed in November last year charged Indian national Nikhil Gupta with working with an Indian government employee in the foiled plot to kill Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who holds dual US and Canadian citizenships, on American soil.

India has already constituted a high-level probe committee to investigate allegations.

“Of course, Congress plays an important role in the US arms transfer process. We routinely consult with members of Congress on the foreign affairs committees before our formal notification so we can address questions that they might have, but I don’t have any comment on when that formal notification might take place,” Miller said on Wednesday. Miller said he has not seen reports appearing on this in the Indian press. Generally, the US-India defence partnership has seen significant growth over the past decade, Miller told reporters at his daily news conference.

“This is a proposed sale that was announced during Prime Minister Modi’s visit last year. We believe it offers significant potential to further advance strategic technology cooperation with India and military cooperation in the region,” Miller said.

Sources in the Indian defence establishment said the talks between the two sides on the multi-billion dollar deal are underway, but did not give any clarity on when the procurement would be sealed.

American and Indian government officials have been holding a series of negotiations on the proposed procurement after Washington responded to New Delhi’s Letter of Request (LoR) for acquisition of the drones from US defence major General Atomics (GA).

India is procuring the long-endurance ‘hunter-killer’ drones to crank up the surveillance apparatus of the armed forces, especially along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

Though the cost of the drones will be finalised in the negotiation process, it is estimated that the price of the procurement would be around USD 3 billion.

The proposed procurement figured in US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin’s talks with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh in Delhi in November.

The Defence Acquisition Council headed by Singh on June 15 last year accorded the Acceptance of Necessity or initial approval for the acquisition of 31 MQ-9B drones from the US under the foreign military sale route.

The SeaGuardian drones are being procured for the three services as they can carry out a variety of roles including maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare and over-the-horizon targeting, among others.

The High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones are capable of remaining airborne for over 35 hours and can carry four Hellfire missiles and around 450 kgs of bombs.

In 2020, the Indian Navy had taken on lease two MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones from General Atomics for one year for surveillance in the Indian Ocean. The lease period has been extended subsequently.

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