What’s holding up India’s $3 billion Predator drone deal with US?

India is looking at sealing a landmark deal to procure 31 MQ-9B Predator armed drones from the US under a government-to-government framework by March with the US Congress expected to clear the supplies in the next few weeks, people familiar with the matter said.

American and Indian government officials will hold the final series of negotiations on the procurement after Washington responds to India’s Letter of Request for the acquisition of drones from US defence major General Atomics, they said.

India is procuring the long-endurance ‘hunter-killer’ drones to crank up the surveillance apparatus of the armed forces, especially along the Line of Actual Control with China.

Though the price of the drones will be finalised during the negotiation process, it is estimated that the procurement would cost around $3 billion.

The people cited above said New Delhi and Washington will depute their respective teams to firm up the deal including finalising the cost and other nitty-gritty.

The aim is to seal the deal by March next year, they said.

As part of the laid down process, the agreement will be between the Indian government and American authorities and the Pentagon will convey to General Atomics about the requirement of the Indian armed forces, they added.

It is understood that the issue of India’s proposed procurement of the drones figured during US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin’s talks with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi earlier this month.

Asked when the procurement will be finalised, Austin said at a media briefing that it will be announced at the right time.

“Well, again, you know, we’ve — at the right time, we’ll announce the (deal). I think the government, the officials in the government are doing everything necessary to make sure that that capability… you (India) get that capability as quickly as possible,” he said.

In June, both sides also reached an agreement under which American aerospace major General Electric will partner with Hindustan Aeronautics Lts to produce jet engines for Indian military aircraft in India.

The Sea Guardian drones are being procured for the three services as they can carry out a variety of roles, including maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare and over-the-horizon targeting.

While the Navy will get 15 Sea Guardian drones, the Indian Air Force and the Army will each get eight Sky Guardian drones.

The high-altitude long-endurance drones are capable of remaining airborne for over 35 hours and can carry four Hellfire missiles and around 450 kgs of bombs.

In 2020, the Indian Navy had taken on lease two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from General Atomics for a period of one year for surveillance in the Indian Ocean. The lease period has been extended subsequently.

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