Washington (diplomat.so) - The U.S. State Department has given the green light for the potential sale of 31 armed MQ-9B SkyGuardian drones, along with related missiles and equipment, to India for a sum of nearly $4 billion, the Pentagon announced on Thursday. This approval comes after years of negotiations between the two countries.
India's interest in procuring large, armed drones from the United States has been longstanding, with discussions for an armed version dating back to 2018 and earlier talks involving unarmed versions. While the State Department's approval is a step forward, the deal still requires further processes before finalization.
The nod from the State Department indicates progress in the U.S.'s efforts to dissuade India from purchasing military equipment from Russia. Approval by leaders of U.S. congressional committees is another necessary step, with Senator Ben Cardin, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, indicating his support after the Biden administration committed to investigating an alleged Indian assassination plot on U.S. soil.
"The 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 stated.
Prior to the uncovering of the plot, the Biden administration had urged India to streamline its bureaucratic processes to facilitate the deal, particularly ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to Washington last June.
Presently, India is leasing a few MQ-9Bs as part of an intelligence-gathering operation. The proposed sale includes advanced communications and surveillance equipment, as well as 170 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles and 310 Laser Small Diameter Bombs.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems will serve as the principal contractor for the deal, according to the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which notified Congress of the potential sale on Thursday.