The Indian armed forces will be getting 22 American-made Guardian drones after the US cleared their sale ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington for his maiden meeting with US President Donald Trump. The clearance comes just days after the announcement of the possibility of making American F-16 fighter jets in India under the Modi government’s Make in India program.
As reported earlier by news agency PTI, the news regarding the surveillance drones came from government sources on Thursday. The deal, which is estimated to be worth $2-3 billion, is being termed as a “game-changer” for bilateral ties between the two nations.
Modi’s two-day visit to Washington begins on Sunday. Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping in April and has also had face-time with the leaders of nations including Japan, Britain, and Vietnam since taking office in January, prompting anxiety in New Delhi that India is no longer a priority in Washington.
According to informed sources, the decision was communicated to the Indian government and the manufacturer by the State Department on Thursday.
However, why do these drones matter? After all, they are unarmed. According to reports, the Indian armed forces intend to use them to keep a watch over activities in the Indian Ocean, a region which has seen the increased presence of Chinese naval assets.
Keeping an eye on China
Once the Indian Navy gets the unarmed surveillance drones it wants to keep watch over the Indian Ocean with, it would be the first such purchase by a country that is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) alliance.
“We are trying to move it to the top of the agenda as a deliverable, this is something that can happen before all the other items,” said one official tracking the progress of the drone discussions in the run-up to the visit.
A big buyer of US arms, India was recently named by Washington as a major defense ally. India, for its part, wants to protect its 7,500-Km (4,700 miles) coastline as Beijing expands its maritime trade routes and Chinese submarines increasingly lurk in regional waters.
While the Guardian drones that India will get are unarmed, the Indian military had originally asked for missile-firing Predator Avenger aircraft, a request turned down by the Obama administration.