US okays sale of 31 predator drones to India; hails ties with India

The predator drones and related equipment will be sold to India for nearly $4 billion

PTI02_01_2024_000444A A MQ-9B drone. The US on Thursday approved the sale of 31 MQ-9B armed drones to India | PTI

The Pentagon has notified the US Congress of the sale of 31  armed MQ-9B SkyGuardian drones to India, six years after New Delhi began talks with Washington over the deal. The countries broke new grounds in the weapons deal during last year's state visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the invitation of US President Joe Biden.

The 31 Predator drones, related missiles and equipment will be sold to India for nearly $4 billion, the Pentagon added. 

It also announced on Thursday that the US "Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying the (US) Congress of this possible sale. "The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of India of MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of $3.99 billion," the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said on Thursday night. 

The Pentagon statement read that this "proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to strengthen the US-India strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defence partner which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region."

Though the sale still needs approval by the US Congress, that wouldn't be a major hurdle since most lawmakers favour strong relations with India. However, several members, especially on the left of Biden’s Democratic Party, have criticised Modi’s record on human rights.

The Pentagon's notification also means that the deal managed to overcome a hindrance, approval by leaders of U.S. congressional committees. 

Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had ended his "hold" on the agreement now that the Biden administration had agreed to fully investigate an Indian assassination plot on US soil. "The [Biden] administration has demanded that there be investigation and accountability in regards to the plot here in the United States and that there is accountability within India against these types of activities," Cardin told reporters.

The deal also marks a shift in India's reliance on Russia, its principal weapons supplier for decades. Russia has supplied 65% of India's weapon purchases totalling over $60 billion over the past two decades. 

India and the United States have also signed an agreement with General Electric to produce jet engines in India for its fighters, marking the first such concession by the U.S. to a non-ally country. Plans have also been made for the U.S. to "accelerate" technology cooperation and joint production in various areas, from air combat to intelligence.

Meanwhile, hours after it notified the Congress of its decision to sell 31 armed drones to India at an estimated cost of nearly USD 4 billion, the State Department also termed America's partnership with India as among the most consequential ones. "I would say that our partnership with India is one of our most consequential relationships. We work closely with India on our most vital priorities," State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters at his daily news conference.


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