New Delhi: The Defence Ministry of India has granted approval for the procurement of armed MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones manufactured in the United States, as per sources cited by Reuters. The procurement entails the purchase of 31 drones from General Atomics, with a total value slightly exceeding $3 billion, according to one of the sources.
The decision from the Defence Ministry comes shortly before Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarks on a state visit to the United States next week. The initial clearance for the procurement was given by the Defence Ministry’s capital procurement body, which convened today to finalize the deal. The announcement of the procurement is expected to be made during PM Modi’s meeting with US President Joe Biden.
Given China’s increasing dominance, President Biden has made it a priority to strengthen defence ties with India and has expressed a willingness to collaborate on military technology, despite the absence of a formal security alliance between the two nations.
The “Acceptance of Necessity” by the ministry marks the first step in the procurement process, which now requires clearance from PM Modi’s cabinet. The US government had previously approved the sale of 30 drones to India over two years ago, but the Defence Ministry had delayed the decision until now.
The MQ-9B drones are primarily intended for use by the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region. Since November 2020, the Indian Navy has already leased two unarmed MQ-9B drones for surveillance purposes.
In recent developments, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan concluded his two-day visit to Delhi, where he met with his counterpart Ajit Doval, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, and PM Modi. Prior to that, American Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spent two days in Delhi, announcing a joint roadmap for defence industry cooperation and supporting India’s aspirations to enhance domestic weapon production.
The United States has been actively encouraging India to reduce its reliance on Russia, which has historically been India’s largest weapons exporter. Furthermore, the Biden administration is expected to approve the manufacture of General Electric engines in India for domestically produced fighter jets, with an official announcement scheduled during PM Modi’s visit.
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