WASHINGTON — The United States is likely to respond positively to India's request for 22 unarmed high-tech multi-mission Predator Guardian drones for maritime surveillance, especially in the Indian Ocean, sources here have said.
The move comes after India was designated a major defense partner of the U.S. in June.
Within weeks of that designation, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met President Barack Obama at the White House in early June, the Indian Navy had sent an official letter of request to the Department of Defense towards the purchase of 22 high-tech multi-mission Predator Guardian UAVs.
This was the first major arms sale purchase request by India after Obama designated New Delhi as a major strategic defense partner.
The U.S. government has not made a formal decision on it yet, but is believed to have started an interagency process on the Indian request.
According to sources, the administration believes that an approval of such a major military sale would help in “sealing (the) Indian-U.S. defense relationship,” bring in “a new level of comfort” between the two militaries and would be considered as a lasting legacy not only for India but also for the Asia-Pacific pivot of the outgoing president.
Officials here believe the sale of the drones would act as a force multiplier for India's maritime surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean region, which of late has become one of the key American objectives in the Asia-Pacific region.
Top governmental sources confirmed that Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar and U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had detailed discussions on the Predator Guardian UAV to fulfill maritime surveillance requirements.
Parrikar was in the U.S. last month and held meetings with Carter at the Pentagon on Aug. 29.
During the meeting, Carter is understood to have assured Parrikar he would personally “champion” India's request “within the system,” sources said.
Sources indicate along with the White House, the Pentagon and some influential members of the U.S. are keen to complete the process as soon as possible before Obama leaves his presidency in January.
However, a section within the State Department have to be convinced that this is in the interest of the U.S. national security as well. This maritime capability will be a force multiplier for the Indian Navy who has procured other advance technologies including Boeing P-8 aircraft.
The Guardian, manufactured by General Atomics, has cutting edge technologies that do not exist in the current Indian Navy arsenal.