India and the US concluded the signing of the fourth and last foundational BECA agreement this week which, as per the Trump administration, was essential to transfer high-end technology and platforms, including drones. The Trump administration has also amended the rules that restrict the sale of military-grade drones to foreign partners like India.
The Indian government has resisted American pressure over the purchase of state-of-the-art armed Predator-B drones, also called the MQ-9 Reaper, during the recently held 2+2 ministerial-level dialogue in New Delhi. The armed drone is capable of carrying four Hell-Fire missiles and two 500-pound laser-guided bombs.
Highly placed government sources in New Delhi told Sputnik that several reasons have been conveyed to the visiting ministers for not making a decision “in a hurry” on the proposal, which the Trump administration made in 2017.
“The deal is valued at around $3 billion. Financial constraint is one of the major reasons behind the decision, besides we are still evaluating the advantage that our armed forces can receive from these drones”, sources told Sputnik.
Officials admitted that there is “no consensus over the usefulness”, while adding that the sale of these armed drones was at the top of the agenda on the American side during the 2+2 ministerial meeting earlier this week, when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper travelled to New Delhi to meet their Indian counterparts.
During a joint press briefing at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper had stated that the two countries look forward to advancing sales for key defence platforms, including fighter aircraft and unmanned aerial systems.
India showed interest in the procurement of military drones from General Atomics in 2015, which was declined by the Obama administration. A modified proposal was re-sent to the US after the Trump administration amended rules in 2017 that restrict the sale of military-grade drones to foreign partners like India.
The inhibition towards American armed drones comes as India unveiled its most secretive armed drone “Ghatak” (“Lethal”) earlier this month. India’s state-funded Aeronautical Development Establishment also expressed interest in the manufacturing and assembling of airframes of a scaled-down model of Ghatak in September.
Addressing the media on Air Force Day in the first week of October, Indian Air Force Chief R.K.S. Bhadauria emphasised that drones are an important part for surveillance and intelligence gathering. “However, once the conflict starts, they do become susceptible to enemy action, which is a known fact”, the air chief marshal added.
Experts believe that India does not have a pressing need for armed drones as the country is not fighting any adversary in permissive airspace: the Indian Air Force primarily wants to keep an eye on the movement near the border with China and Pakistan while operating its drones from Indian Air Space.