Washington: Terming its partnership with India as among the most consequential ones, the US has said the proposed sale of 31 armed drones to New Delhi at an estimated cost of nearly USD 4 billion will ensure enhanced maritime security for the country.
The US on Thursday approved the sale of 31 MQ-9B armed drones to India at an estimated cost of USD 3.99 billion, an acquisition that will bolster India’s capability to meet current and future threats by enabling unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in sea lanes of operation.
“I would say that our partnership with India is one of our most consequential relationships. We work closely with India on our most vital priorities,” State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters at his daily news conference.
In response to a question on the next steps in the mega drone deal and its importance, Miller said: “I cannot give you a timeline. This was the initial step today, notifying Congress. The exact timeline of the delivery is something that we will explore with the Government of India over the coming months.” Under the deal, India will get 31 High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs, of which the Navy will get 15 SeaGuardian drones, while the Army and the Indian Air Force will get eight each of the land version – SkyGuardian.
“I will say with respect to the deal itself, the USD 3.99 – almost 4 – billion sale of 31 MQ-9B SkyGuardian aircraft will provide India with an enhanced maritime security and maritime domain awareness capability,” he said.
It offers India outright ownership and a 16-fold increase in the number of aircraft, as compared to their current lease of two MQ-9A aircraft, he added.
On a question on outgoing Indian Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu’s tenure, Miller said: “We have had a close working relationship with the (outgoing Indian) ambassador (Taranjit Singh Sandhu).” He said the US have been able to work with him on a number of shared priorities, including the crucial role India plays in ensuring a free open Indo-Pacific that is connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient, Miller said.
Sandhu, 61, retires from the foreign service after 35 years of diplomatic career this month.
“We wish him well in his future endeavours and look forward to welcoming his replacement,” he said.
In response to another question, Miller said Secretary of State Antony Blinken has a close working relationship with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar, where they are able to engage on some of the most urgent and important priorities.
“Obviously, the secretary has travelled to India to meet with the foreign minister on a number of occasions. He’s welcomed him here. He’s met with him in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly,” Miller said.