The United States has agreed to supply India with the General Atomics MQ-9 Guardian/Predator-B long-range unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), according to a report in the Hindustan Times citing U.S. and Indian diplomatic officials. The MQ-9 has both land- and sea- variants and can be armed with up to four AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and laser-guided bombs. The Guardian sea variants are equipped with advanced marine avionics.
“The matter was taken up during official level meetings attended by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and defence secretary in Washington last month,” the report adds, citing the same sources. Gokhale visited Washington in mid-March and Doval followed for a two-day visit, where he met former U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Mike Pompeo, now the U.S. secretary of state and then the CIA director.
The Guardian UCAV sale would represent one of the more significant U.S.-India defense deals since Washington declared New Delhi a “major defense partner” in 2016. The Obama administration’s decision to elevate India’s status meant that the United States would, among other commitments, “continue to work toward facilitating technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.”
Last year, the United States cleared a sale of 22 unarmed Sea Guardian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to India ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States last June to meet U.S. President Donald J. Trump. In December 2017, India’s Minister of State for Defense, Subhash Bhamre, said that that India was advancing the import of these UAVs and had issued a request for information to the United States in November 2017.
The Hindustan Times report notes that outstanding issues may delay a potential sale. Indian planners are reportedly unconvinced that the United States won’t retain a capability to jam Indian use of these UCAVs by retaining encryption keys to interface with an airborne unit. These issues will reportedly be discussed later this week with a U.S. Department of Defense technical team in New Delhi.
The potential sale may also be discussed during a scheduled so-called two-plus-two dialogue later this month between Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in Washington, D.C.