NEW DELHI (Sputnik) — Less than a week after citing an array of reasons behind its reluctance to share key defense technology with India, the United States has indicated its willingness to sell its state-of-the-art armed predator drones to the Indian Air Force (IAF). A top official from the Trump administration was quoted by the PTI as saying "yes, yes" to a question about whether the US was considering India's pending request for the purchase of the General Atomics Predator C Avenger unmanned aircraft as part of its armed forces' modernization drive.
"We are always looking into this, in terms of Foreign Military Sales, but really also in terms of broad defense cooperation on how to strengthen our relationship and cooperation," the official told PTI on condition of anonymity.
On October 18, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clarified that the US was ready to share technology with India but would not part with some closely guarded defense technologies as it would hurt the country's competitive advantage. Tillerson, in his lengthy speech, however, did not specifically mention armed drones' technology.
"Indeed, he (Tillerson) offered the clearest statement by any US official yet about why India — designated "major defense partner" — can expect no cutting-edge military technology, EVER," Bharat Karnad, India's top defense analyst said.
In June this year, the US had cleared the sale of 22 unarmed MQ-9B Guardian UAVs to India for maritime surveillance. However, the Indian Navy is not keen on taking the deal forward as it is particularly interested in the armed version of the drone, which the US is reluctant to share.
India is developing its own armed drone "Ghatak." However, it is estimated that this will take at least five-seven years, if everything goes according to plan, to be available for the armed forces. Experts are of the view that India does not immediately require armed drones as it is not battling any adversary.
"My understanding is that India does not have a pressing need for armed drones, which are optimized for operations in permissive airspace. India is not fighting any adversary in permissive airspace. Both Chinese and Pakistan airspace is heavily contested. The IAF's interest in the MQ-9B and the Indian Navy's interest in the Heron TP stem from their excellent surveillance capabilities. The IAF wants to look deep into China and Pakistan while operating within the safety of Indian airspace," Vijainder K Thakur, former squadron leader of Indian Air Force told Sputnik.
If America approves the sale of armed drones to India, New Delhi will have to spend $8 billion on acquiring the system without any technology transfer.